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From the Library of 













Author of "The Struggle in Flanders," "The Battles 
of the Somme," "The Soul of the War" etc. 



new lar YORK 




Copyright, 1919, 
By George E. Doran Company 

Printed in the United States of America 




Introduction ll 



I The Surprise Attack 4 1 

II Rescued Civilians 54 

III The Tunnel Trench to Bourlon Wood ... 59 

IV The Battles of Bourlon Wood 67 

V The German Counter-Thrust 93 

VI From Gonnelieu to Gouzeaucourt 104 

VII The Triumph of the Tanks 125 

VIII The Heroes of the Twenty-ninth Division . .130 


I The Peace of the Snow *43 

II The Message of Spring I 53 

III The Long New Line l6 9 

IV Raids and Reconnaissances 183 



I The Storm Breaks 2 °3 

II Heroic Rearguards 22 5 

III Arras to the Somme 2 34 

IV The Valour of the Men 2 54 





I The Drive Across to Lys 283 

II The Flanders Front 309 

III The Panorama of Battle 319 

IV A Day of Slaughter 331 

V Nearest to Amiens 345 

VI The Hills of Flanders 356 

VII The French in Flanders 382 

VIII The Failure of the German Offensive . . . 392 



British Line After German Counter-Attack in the 

Cambrai Salient, November, 1917 57 

The Heights of Bourlon Wood 69 

The Germans Outside Amiens, March, 1918 . . . . 238 

Arras Battle Fronts, 1916-1918 248 

German Attack in Flanders, April, 1918 287 

The Threat to the Coast, April, 1918 310 

Lines of German Advance After Flanders Offensive . 350 





In my last book of collected dispatches — "From Bapaume 
to Passchendaele" — I dealt first with the German retreat 
after the Somme battles to the shelter of their Hindenburg 
line; then with the Arras battles which began with a strik- 
ing victory and petered out into minor actions when our 
troops, with grim perseverance and no light losses, contin- 
ued to hold German divisions so that the French might 
strike more freely elsewhere; and, in the third part, with 
the battles in Flanders — those muddy, bloody battles of 
last year — ending with the capture of the ridges. All that 
fighting, so heroic, so costly, so disappointing as it seemed 
in its immediate and apparent results when in March and 
April of this year, 19 18, the enemy came sprawling back 
over all the ground we had gained, must be remembered 
in order to understand the happenings that followed — the 
incomplete success of the Cambrai adventure in November, 
the great retreat in March, the arrival of the Germans on 
the Marne with their dreadful threat to Paris, and the 
strategy of the French Generalissimo, the fine genius of 
Foch, so patient in his waiting for the moment to strike 
back, so terrific when he struck, leading up to the glorious 
recovery and victories of the British armies in August and 
September. For in war as in normal life there are no 
isolated facts. Nothing happens that is not the direct con- 
sequence of previous events and conditions, and that does 
not lead like a chain of fate to results that follow by in- 
evitable laws. The lack of complete success of the French 



offensive in Champagne under General Nivelle in the spring 
of last year, 19 17, made our later battles around Arras an 
apparent waste of time and life to us except in their effect 
of wastage also upon German man-power, for many of the 
enemy were killed and wounded in those days. This delay 
and this wear and tear of our reserves hampered the plan 
of campaign in Flanders, and were, in some measure at 
least, the cause of our inability to reap the full fruits of 
our successes in those frightful fields where, after the cap- 
ture of the ridges, we might have gained back the Belgian 
coast. But those dreadful battles of Flanders, tragic be- 
cause of their cost in life and agony for many thousands 
of our men in spite of the glory of their courage, were 
the direct cause of many things that followed. They left 
us weak for a time in the field. Our losses had been very 
heavy (though Lord Northcliffe's estimate of 800,000 cas- 
ualties in the year seems to me excessive), and the Gov- 
ernment had not yet found means of filling up the gaps in 
our ranks. Our infantry and gunners after months of 
fighting in foul weather, and abominable conditions, were 
tired to exhaustion, nerve-racked, spent, though they 
goaded their spirit when the call came for further efforts. 
What drafts came out were young soldiers untrained in 
the needs of actual warfare, and relying only on courage, 
which helped them and all of us through. And at that 
time when we were weakest w r e took over a longer line 
right down to the Oise below St.-Quentin, by La Fere; 
and the line we held from beyond Ypres to below St.- 
Quentin was longer than we could hold in safety, without 
much larger reserves than were then at the disposal of our 
Commander-in-Chief, as soon as the enemy began to gather 
his forces against us by bringing his divisions from Rus- 
sia to the Western Front. The enormity of that menace 
had not yet developed, though the shadow of it was creep- 
ing up to us when at the end of the Flanders fight Sir 
Julian Byng, commanding the Third Army, launched his 
surprise attack in the Cambrai salient on November 20 of 


1 91 7. It was a daring plan ingeniously imagined and 
brilliantly planned, and the only weakness of it was that it 
had to be carried out by troops who had already been fight- 
ing in hard battles so that they needed rest, and that no 
strong reserves could be spared to follow through the first 
advance to gain the fullest advantage of first success and 
hold the captured ground against heavy counter-attacks. 
Our Third Army had to cut their coat according to their 
cloth, and there was no margin to spare. Everything de- 
pended on surprise, and to achieve that was the task of the 
Tank Corps. It was to be the supreme test of the Tanks, 
which in the mud swamps of Flanders had had no chance 
at all though they had done gallant and desperate things 
there. For the first time they were to be used in large num- 
bers in a wide battle array, and the enormous interest of 
the experiment was whether they could do away with the 
necessity of long preliminary bombardment — for the break- 
ing of wire and trenches — which until then had prevented 
all surprise attacks on a big scale. The Hindenburg line 
was in front of them with 14-foot trenches protected by 
wide belts of wire utterly impassable by infantry unless cut 
through for their passage. If the Tank Corps failed it 
would be almost a death-blow to the hopes of their enthusi- 
asts. If they succeeded it would revolutionize our war- 
fare and bring back the possibility of surprise and strategy 
which had been killed for a time by aeroplane observation, 
and by the registration of guns warning the enemy of our 
concentrations against him. They succeeded gloriously. 
They broke through the Hindenburg line and cruised out 
into the open, and our infantry followed through the gaps, 
and we saw open warfare again with troops moving be- 
yond the shelter of trenches, and cavalry patrols scouring 
through captured villages and rounding up large numbers 
of prisoners ; and for war correspondents there were great 
scenes to watch and describe more easily than in other bat- 
tles — those of Flanders — where the view was more lim- 
ited by intense shell-fire, and trench systems, and concrete 


pill-boxes stop. For a little while it looked as though we 
should get Cambrai, but the inability of the cavalry to 
sweep through on the first day in full strength gave the 
enemy time to recover from his frightful shock and to bring 
up his reserves for the defence of Bourlon Wood, Mceuvres, 
and Fontaine Notre Dame, when our men were becoming 
exhausted by their long fatigue with few reserves behind 
them to relieve or support them. The bad luck of the cav- 
alry was a poignant disappointment to every cavalry offi- 
cer and man eager to ride out into the blue and to prove that 
they are of supreme value in modern warfare when their 
moment comes. It was no fault of their spirit that they 
did not succeed to the full. The breaking of the bridge at 
Masnieres by one of the Tanks, and the difficulty of find- 
ing a crossing there, caused the first delay in the orders for 
the cavalry to ride beyond Ribecourt where many squad- 
rons had gathered. But the chief hindrance was the ene- 
my's success in holding a line of trenches known as the 
Rumilly switch line. It had been unoccupied after our 
first break through the Hindenburg line, but there was a 
race for it by German infantry and ours, and the enemy 
running towards it from Cambrai won. The taking of this 
switch line was considered a preliminary condition by the 
cavalry generals, and when it was reported to them that 
it had not fallen they issued orders cancelling the plans of 
advance. Some Canadian cavalry — the Fort Garry Horse 
— and some of our dragoons rode aher.d, not receiving these 
orders, and had amazing adventures, and elsewhere vari- 
ous cavalry units fighting mounted and dismounted did gal- 
lant work, but the great cavalry drive did not happen, and 
Cambrai did not fall. There is some evidence that one or 
two of our patrols actually rode into this town — it comes 
from German sources as well as our own — but if so it was 
only on a forlorn hope. Nevertheless the first phase of 
the adventure in the Cambrai salient was a fine success and 
fully justified its plan. Apart altogether from the tak- 
ing of many thousands of prisoners, and the breaking of 


the Hindenburg line, which was a sharp blow to the pride 
of the German command, it proved that hundreds of Tanks 
could be assembled secretly in spite of aeroplane observa- 
tion, moving at night and taking careful cover, and that 
there were wonderful possibilities of surprise and victory 
by this means. All would have been well if we had been 
able to hold the captured ground, and there would have 
been no irony in the ringing of the joy bells in London. 
But within ten days the enemy came back upon us with a 
tiger's pounce. Using our own methods of assembling 
troops secretly by night, and not revealing his intentions by 
any preliminary bombardment or registration of guns, he 
launched a powerful attack on the right flank of the salient 
we had created and broke through it. It still seems a mys- 
tery to the British peoples. They still imagine that some 
fearful secret lurks behind all this in spite of all the details 
given by myself and other war correspondents. That one 
of our generals should have been caught in his pyjamas 
seemed to them incredible, and for some queer reason that 
simple fact stuck in their minds and seemed to confirm their 
worst suspicions, though I know many officers who have 
slept many times in their pyjamas in trench dug-outs with- 
out mishap and closer to the enemy than this general, 
whose headquarters were at that time far behind the front 
line. There is no mystery about that set-back in the Cam- 
brai salient, and I have told the facts in full detail. Owing 
to the long strain upon our man-power throughout the 
Flanders fighting, the heavy losses which had not been 
made up from home, and the utter need of rest by divisions 
who had suffered most, there were few men available to 
relieve the divisions who were in line round the salient, or 
to strengthen them by support in depth. Some of the same 
divisions who captured Havrincourt and Trescault and the 
Flesquieres Ridge, Masnieres, Marcoing, and Gonnelieu 
on November 20 were holding the lines there on November 
30, and were thinly strung out. The 55th Division on the 
right, very much below strength after a long period of fight- 


ing, held a front of 13,000 yards chiefly by a series of posts 
and strong points, and that is an enormous length of front 
for any one division, while behind them there was very lit- 
tle in support in case of need. The enemy gained his sur- 
prise, and when without any preliminary warning of ar- 
tillery registration, or any unusual movement seen by air- 
scouts in daylight, he launched his attack in great strength 
he was able to pierce through our right flank and strike 
up to Gouzeaucourt before our headquarters staffs were 
aware that they were in danger. Telephone wires were 
cut, outposts were surrounded, and German machine-gun- 
ners pushed through the gaps and worked forward rapidly. 
The defence of Masnieres and Marcoing by the 29th Di- 
vision, and of La Vacquerie further south, were astound- 
ing episodes of human courage which should never be for- 
gotten in history, though so few people remember, now 
or know how, those men of ours fought until in some places 
only a few living remained among their dead, and yet even 
then some of these boys, haggard, blood-stained, wounded, 
weak, under dreadful fire fought on to the last gasp, or 
fell back still fighting rearguard actions. In this book I 
tell that story, and what I tell is true. The enemy losses 
without exaggeration were immense, especially in the north- 
ern side of the salient, and the price he paid was too great 
for driving us part of the way back, leaving us still on 
high ground which he wanted. But our losses were heavy, 
too, and in a few months we badly wanted those men and 
any men. 

It was in those few months between December and March 
that a menace of dreadful things crept on apace against us 
until at last it flamed up against our lines, and we were in 
greater danger than we have ever been. Division by di- 
vision the Germans transferred their troops from Russia 
to the Western Front. Our Intelligence, which was really 
wonderful throughout this time, knew of their movement 
and arrival, week by week and month by month. They 
knew and added up the figures and wrote their warnings 


to be on guard. In January there were 183 German di- 
visions on the Western Front, about equal to the Allied 
strength at that time. In March there were 207 German 
divisions, giving the enemy a superiority of something like 
150,000 bayonets. It is true that the Americans were com- 
ing along, but those who were in France were not yet fully 
trained to take part in the battle-line, and it was not until 
after our retreat that the tide across the Atlantic bore a 
rush of men which swelled into the great army which has 
now achieved its first victories. So we were immensely 
outnumbered. We were outnumbered on the Western 
Front as a whole, and presently it became evident, or at 
least probable, that the main shock of the German offensive 
would in the first place come against the British front. 
The evidence for this increased day by day. Our flying 
scouts reported abnormal movements of troops on railways 
and roads far back behind the German lines. They re- 
ported new aerodromes established opposite our front, new 
hospitals and field-ambulances, as though bloody battles 
were expected, new ammunition dumps everywhere. Pris- 
oners taken in our raids repeated the rumours in the Ger- 
man trenches of an offensive on so vast a scale that it would 
crush the British Army for all time and cut it off on the 
coast, while the victorious German army swung and rolled 
up the French southwards to Paris and beyond. Many 
German soldiers did not believe all this possible. They re- 
fused to be doped by the wild words of their officers and 
by the veiled prophecies of their Press. But they believed 
that it would be attempted, and that the German militarists 
would stake everything on this last great gamble to secure 
victory and peace. In the German Press, and in propa- 
ganda for neutral countries, many sinister things were writ- 
ten with intent to hearten German sympathisers and strike 
terror among their enemies. There were blood-curdling 
stories of a new gas so horrible in its widespread power of 
death that the Kaiser had only been persuaded to allow its 
use when the Empress besought him on bended knees to 


save their people by this means. There were dark hints 
that the world would be staggered as never before by the 
march of events which would end in the complete triumph 
of the German armies, and the abject surrender of France 
and Britain. We could afford to ignore those fantastic 
tales, but behind them was the real truth of an assembling 
power which would test our defences to the uttermost, and 
the psychology of a people sick to death of victories which 
achieved no end, aghast at their losses and increasing ruin, 
but dragged and panting with the hope that by a last su- 
preme effort peace might be imposed upon their enemies. 
It is curious that in spite of the accumulating evidence of 
enormous preparations for attack against our front, and 
the warning of our Intelligence Corps who gathered this 
knowledge and analysed it, and weighed it with careful 
judgment, and co-ordinated a mass of minute facts all 
leading to the same conclusion, there were many people well 
informed of all this who refused to believe that it amounted 
to anything more than gigantic bluff. Mr. Bonar Law was 
not the only sceptic. The rank and file of the Army was 
itself divided in opinion about the reality of the threat. 
I talked to many distinguished officers at the Front, in 
view sometimes of the German lines so quiet over there, 
so suspiciously quiet, who had many reasons to give for 
the explaining away of the evidence of impending attack 
on a mighty scale. The intensive training in open war- 
fare which was being practised by German storm troops 
seventy kilometres behind their lines, was only what our 
troops had to do when they came out of the line. The 
increase in ammunition dumps was due to precautions for 
defence. They would never dare to attempt frontal at- 
tacks against our entrenched positions which were mar- 
vellously strong and practically impregnable. And so on. 
For my part going round our lines with the eye of an ama- 
teur our defences did not seem so strong as all that, espe- 
cially on the right of the line north and south of St.-Quen- 
tin, and we seemed to be holding the line rather thinly. 


The men from one end of the line to the other were con- 
temptuous of all German menaces. They had a magnifi- 
cent optimism in their powers of defence, and in the 
strength of their lines. They were sure that if the enemy 
attacked in masses he would be slaughtered in masses. 
They had that cheery confidence which has never deserted 
the British soldier throughout this war, except in hours of 
supreme tragedy, and has been the cause of some of our 
weakness and of most of our strength. The French ar- 
mies, as far as I could get a glimpse of their opinion, seemed 
to think that if the German offensive materialized, half 
its strength at least would break against them. But when 
it began it was the full weight which struck us hard. It 
was the weight of overwhelming numbers of German 
storm troops highly trained in new methods of open war- 
fare, in which our men were inexperienced, armed with a 
fantastic number of machine-guns, and supported by heavy 
concentrations of artillery. The German storm troops 
were arranged in depth on a narrow front, divisions pass- 
ing through divisions, and others following on behind and 
again passing through, so as to maintain the first impetus, 
keep up the pace of advance, and relieve the foremost 
troops, who then fell behind for rest and reorganization 
until their turn came again to go forward and pass through 
the most advanced ranks. It was a method we had adopted 
on a small scale at Wytschaete and Messines with absolute 
success. But the enemy was able to do it on a large scale, 
on a scale of man-power never seen before in the history 
of war. They attacked us with 114 divisions against 48, 
that is nearly 800,000 bayonets against something over 
300,000, reckoning a division on both sides at 7000 in bay- 
onet strength. That is all the mystery there is behind our 
retreat in March. Undoubtedly mistakes were made dur- 
ing the progress of the retreat which is, I suppose, one of 
the most difficult operations in war. The difficulty of 
keeping touch with corps and divisional staffs when all 
wires were down and everything was in a state of flux, 


after the first break through must have led now and then 
to confusion, delay in command, lack of contact between 
one body of troops and another, of which the enemy with 
great skill and audacity was quick to take advantage. It 
is possible that among the troops themselves, faced often 
with the horrible danger of having both their flanks ex- 
posed by wide gaps between them and the troops on either 
side of them, there was at times extreme fear of being cut 
off for ever, so that they may have fallen back too rapidly 
from lines which they might have held, and that here and 
there among inexperienced men there was something like 
panic. It would be ridiculous to suppose that in a retreat 
like this incidents of that kind did not happen, and that all 
our officers did the right thing at the right time — and every 
time — and that all our men were so indifferent to their 
peril that they did not "have the wind up," as they call it, 
in the worst places and the worst hours. If they had been 
like that they would not have been human, and the British 
soldier is very human. But the truth remains and will re- 
main for ever that against overwhelming pressure and in 
the most difficult conditions of war, with men fighting day 
after day without sleep or rest, until at last they were mere 
dazed and stumbling wrecks upheld only by the last flicker 
of their spirit, our Third and Fifth Armies retreated with- 
out anything like a general panic, fought heroic rear-guard 
actions all the way, inflicted frightful losses on the enemy, 
held their lines intact at their journey's end, and defeated 
the enemy's purpose of driving between us and the French 
and putting us out of action. The courage of the men was 
put to the supreme test of endurance, and most of them 
did not fail, but in spite of bitter tragic losses held out 
until they had brought the enemy to a halt on the lines of 
the Ancre and the Somme. They were the men of the di- 
visions who in the months of August and September of 
this same year drove the enemy back to his old Hindenburg 
lines and beyond, over many miles of country, storming 
line after line, village after village, fighting a battle every 


day and going on again the next day, and defeating for 
ever the German hopes of victory. But looking back on 
March 21, and the weeks that followed, one remembers 
them as a nightmare. Truly for a time it seemed as 
though the bottom had fallen out of the world, our world, 
and that all the sacrifice of our men, all the agonies of our 
years of war, might end after all in defeat or something 
like it. For the enemy had broken through lines which 
many of us had believed to be impregnable, and was almost 
at the gate of Amiens, threatening an advance to Abbe- 
ville and the coast, and he was still very strong in num- 
bers of men, and we were very weak. Up in Flanders 
Rupprecht of Bavaria was sitting down with many fresh 
divisions in his command, and we had few troops to hold 
him back when his time came to strike. They were not 
good days, and worse were to follow. 

The enemy's first success in breaking our lines was due 
to a new method of attack which has since been known as 
"infiltration." It consisted in taking immediate advantage 
of any weakness or gap in his enemy's line by concentrat- 
ing troops in depth at that part, and forcing them through 
until they had gone far enough to threaten the flanks of 
the troops on either side of them, who at the same time 
were being attacked frontally and were, therefore, con- 
centrated upon their forward defences. Sometimes only a 
few men with machine-guns would make their way through, 
under cover of a sunken road, or an old communication 
trench, or foggy weather, but at a signal that they had es- 
tablished a post there, other machine-gunners and riflemen 
would make their way to them stealthily and push a little 
further forward and get further support in numbers, until 
their sweep of machine-gun fire on the flanks, and even in 
rear of our troops, would have a serious effect upon their 
position and moral. For no troops in the world can ig- 
nore a threat upon their flanks, and fight frontally with any 
sense of security when there is hostile fire over their shoul- 
der, and the enemy in unknown strength between them and 


the troops with whom they are supposed to be in touch. 
That is exactly what happened on March 21 in more than 
one sector of our line. On the Third Army front that gal- 
lant division of Highlanders, the 51st, who have had an 
extraordinary history since that day, having already made 
their name at Beaumont Hamel in the old Somme battles, 
at Arras in April of '17, and in the Cambrai salient in 
November, were astride the Bapaume-Cambrai road, hold- 
ing Boursies and Demicourt. On their right was the 17th 
Division, and on their left the 6th, two of the finest of our 
English divisions. Their battle defences were very strong 
and they were sure of them. On their left the defensive 
system was not so strong, and the first thing that was known 
of grave peril on the morning of March 21 was when Scot- 
tish officers, in battalion headquarters at Sole trench, down 
on their left flank by Louveral Wood, found the enemy 
close to them and surrounding them. The Germans un- 
der cover of mist had penetrated into the Queant-Pronville 
valley, had filtered down it in increasing strength, and was 
turning the left flank of the 51st Division, held by the 6th 
and 7th Black Watch, and the right flank of the 6th Di- 
vision, by driving this wedge between them and thrusting 
it deeper in by streams of machine-gunners. Their drive 
was south-east behind Boursies and Doignies, and although 
the 51st formed a defensive flank in a line called Sturgeon 
Avenue, east of Boursies — most of the Black Watch had 
been cut off in their system between the left boundary of 
the division and Rabbit Alley — the enemy's penetration 
continued by the wedge being driven deeper down, and he 
got into Doignies about two o'clock in the afternoon after 
heavy losses. His frontal attack against the 51st had made 
no ground at all, but this outflanking movement threatened 
them gravely. Doignies was retaken for a time, and then 
lost again, by men of the 19th Division, and the next day 
Morchies, on the left, which had been lost, was also re- 
taken, but it was impossible to hold these places when the 
enemy broke through Vaux Vraucourt and again exposed 


the left flank of the 51st and 19th Divisions. They had 
already fallen back to the Hermies switch, and on the night 
of the 22nd fell back again to the Ytres-Beugny line, and 
once again, out of touch with troops on either side, as the 
enemy was still outflanking them, to a line through Ban- 
court and Villers-au-Flos, on the east side of Bapaume. 
Soon afterwards the enemy was reported to be coming up 
to Le Transloy by way of Lebceuf and Morval, and the 
51st Division with the 62nd, the 19th, the 41st, and the 
6th were all in danger of being cut off, and only extri- 
cated themselves by rear-guard actions, often with the en- 
emy on either side of the rear-guards, and desperate hold- 
ing actions against unequal odds, while one body of troops 
fell through another and took turns in fighting. They killed 
great numbers of the enemy, but more came on and on, forc- 
ing their way like water into any gaps between bodies of our 
troops — and there were many gaps after the retreat had 
started owing to the extreme difficulty of keeping touch — 
and the German machine-guns were astonishing in the skill 
and courage with which they carried out this plan of "in- 

What happened on the Third Army front was happening 
in a more serious way down on our right, where the Fifth 
Army was holding the lines. A break happened between 
Gauchy and Itancourt, south of St.-Quentin and the south- 
ernmost end of our line at Barisis on the Oise. On the left 
of this sector of line was the 30th Division, with the 36th 
(Ulster) in the centre, the 14th on their right, and lower 
down below the German main thrust the 58th (London) 
Division. The foremost lines were held by battle positions 
formed by a series of redoubts in depth. One of those held 
by the Ulster men was the Race-course redoubt, on the site 
of the St.-Quentin old racecourse, with strong machine-gun 
positions behind in Gruchies valley. There was no regular 
system of trenches. The 30th Division on their left, made 
up of Manchester battalions, held from just north of the old 
Roman road to the St.-Quentin Canal, with Manchester Hill 


redoubt and others in their forward positions, and behind 
them machine-gun positions at Roupy and the Epine-de- 
Dallon. The 14th Division on the right of the Ulstermen 
were at Urvillers and in front of Essigny. On March 21 
it was a foggy morning, and all this country was so en- 
shrouded in mist that it was impossible to see further than 
fifty yards ahead. That put all our rear machine-gun posi- 
tions out of action until the enemy was close to them, pre- 
venting a long-range barrage which had been designed ; and 
indeed nothing was known in these positions until the enemy 
was swarming round them. The first report received by the 
30th Division was that the enemy had broken through on 
both sides of the Epine-de-Dallon and Manchester redoubt. 
The garrisons of those redoubts held out and fought to the 
death, as I have told in this book, but grave news came that 
the Germans had broken between the 14th and 30th Divis- 
ions and were attacking Essigny Station. They gained pos- 
session of Essigny and Contrescourt in spite of the desperate 
defence of the garrisons in the station redoubt at Essigny, 
and at the St.-Simon redoubt by the 61st Brigade of the 20th 
Division, put at the disposal of the 30th. That night all 
three brigades of the 30th crossed the St.-Quentin Canal, 
blowing up the bridges behind them, and the 61 st Brigade, 
now joined with them, were ordered to hold the bridgeheads 
at Tugny and St.-Simon. But the enemy was still driving 
between the 30th and 36th (Ulster) Divisions, now utterly 
out of touch with each other, and a further withdrawal was 
ordered to the Somme defences. The 14th Division was 
outflanked completely, and there was no touch with it. In 
a steady drive the Germans thrust past the left flank of the 
Ulster men advancing from Jussy to Flavel-le-Martel, and 
finding a gap in our line at Esmery Hallon. This was filled 
for a time by 200 men from headquarters staffs, but the 
Ulstermen were compelled to retreat through Guiscard, and 
finally, after desperate actions in small bodies supported by 
French troops along the Villers-Bretonneux road until the 
division could only muster 300 fit men, they ended their re- 


treat east of Amiens. In the early morning of March 24 the 
enemy broke into Ham, which had been held by the 89th 
Brigade of the 20th Division, with stragglers from other 
units and miscellaneous men from a corps school. On the 
same day the Germans had reached a line through Athies 
and Matigny, and their advanced patrols were threatening 
the crossings of the Somme at Brie, and were fighting round 
Peronne at Mont St.-Quentin. That was our most critical 
and perilous time. If the enemy were able to seize the 
Somme bridges to be blown up. As we have seen, the enemy 
best line of defence would be broken and our armies would 
be in the gravest jeopardy. Biaches-Brie and Sailly-Sallisel 
had to be held at all costs, and the bridge at Brie and other 
Somme bridges to be blown up. As we have seen, the enemy 
was advancing steadily between the Villers-Bretonneux and 
Roye roads, towards the crossing at St.-Christ against the 
retiring rear-guards of the 30th and 36th Divisions, with the 
6 1 st in support, while in the north the 2nd Division was 
fighting back to Bucquoy and Achiet to the old Somme bat- 
tlefields near Hebuterne. The troops who were fighting 
back to the Somme crossings and trying to hold the enemy 
there below Peronne belonged to our 19th Corps, and were 
the 66th and 24th Divisions, with the 50th in reserve on 
March 21. On the opening day of the battle they had been 
holding the line from Gouzeaucourt, in the north, to Mais- 
semy, on the left of the 30th Division above St.-Quentin. 
What happened to the divisions below them happened also 
to them. The enemy attacked with five divisions in depth 
and two in reserve, drove heavily through the line to Tem- 
pleux Gerard, north-west of Hargicourt, and captured that 
village. On the second day they attacked Le Verguier, 
where the Queen's fought to the death, and having taken 
Vendricourt Chateau, after desperate fighting, pressed heav- 
ily between Ervillay and Vermand. Ten of our Tanks and 
the 15th Hussars dismounted, came to the support of our 
infantry, but meanwhile a violent attack on their left at 
Villers-Faucon caused a break in the line through the 16th 


(Irish) Division, and turned the flank of the 19th Corps. 
With our 2nd Cavalry Division, including the 4th Dragoon 
Guards, 9th Lancers, and 17th Lancers, they had hard fight- 
ing at Roisel, and then fell back across the Somme, where 
the 8th Division was holding the line. Most of the bridges 
were blown up, but apparently one at St.-Christ was not 
destroyed, and there is some doubt whether the bridge at 
Brie was effectively broken in time to prevent a German 
crossing. On the morning of March 25 two German di- 
visions attacked between St.-Christ and Falvy, and men of 
the 66th Division and others were forced back to Morchain 
and Mesnil. The Somme crossings had been lost, and the 
worst happened. The enemy had a clear road open to him 
on the way to Amiens, and all our troops had to fall back 
rapidly lest they should be encircled and cut off. Behind the 
line of the Somme, round about Peronne and Roye, on the 
way back to Amiens and Albert, many of our old trenches 
had been filled up, here and there agriculture had been 
started again under the direction of British officers — I shall 
never forget the retreat of the steam-rollers and reaping- 
machines from that district. We lay open to the enemy's 
advance, and it was only their heavy losses and exhaustion 
after their rapid progress which brought them to a halt 
outside Villers-Bretonneux and Albert — that and the grim 
defence of weak units from many divisions who held some 
sort of a line until the Australians and New Zealanders, 
followed by the French, were rushed up to their support. 
For a while Amiens was defended only by a thin screen of 
tired troops, among whom on the right of our line were, 
stragglers, signallers, orderlies, clerks, dismounted cavalry, 
and other odd units known as Carey's Force, because of the 
officer sent down to command them, and for a day and night 
at least it looked as though poor Amiens were doomed. Al- 
bert had already fallen, and the enemy had all the old battle- 
fields of the Somme in his clutch again. They were dark 
days, and to those of us who were in the midst of all this 


there was no comfort but in faith and courage, and they 
were strained. 

There was a sad night in Amiens. It was a night of 
white moonlight so coldly glittering that the pinnacles and 
buttresses of the Cathedral were like silver, and the old 
houses of the city with their steep roofs and plaster walls 
were clear-cut under the stars, and flooded with that white 
light except where their shadows were inky black. We were 
sitting with many officers at dinner in the Hotel du Rhin 
at half-past seven in the evening, after coming back through 
Albert, where dead men and dead horses lay about the 
ruins, and small bodies of British troops, utterly exhausted 
after their days of retreat, were awaiting attack. There 
was no gaiety in that dining-room. The enemy was ad- 
vancing on Amiens, and some of us knew that there was 
next to nothing to hold him back. The waiters — Gaston, the 
old soldier who knew more strategy it seemed than all our 
staff college, and appeared to have more courage than Coeur 
de Lion, and Joseph, with his cry of "C'est la guerre, ,, and a 
philosophy of life which he expressed by cynical words 
ending in high-pitched laughter — were silent and scared. 
Gaston whispered over my shoulder, "Dites-moi, mon petit 
caporal" — he called me that because of some fancied like- 
ness to the young Napoleon — "vous croyez que Amiens sera 
sauve? lis n'entreront pas?" I said, "They will never 
come into Amiens again/' but there was a frightful doubt in 
my heart when I said so. 

Next morning there was an exodus of the people of 
Amiens. The shopkeepers put their shutters up sadly be- 
cause they had made much money from the British Army, 
and because the business of their life was gone, and their 
homes in the little parlours behind the counters must be 
abandoned. I saw the girl of the bookshop putting up her 
shutters. Her place of business had been a salon as well as 
a shop. Hundreds of British officers, thousands of them 
since the beginning of the Somme battles in July of 'i6, 
had come here to chat with this vivacious girl and her smil- 


ing mother, who were full of wit and good-humour. She 
turned as I passed on the other side of the street and waved 
a hand in farewell, and I was struck by the look of courage 
she had. All the restaurants where there had been such gay 
little dinners in good days of the war, all the teas where 
young British officers had flirted with pretty girls and en- 
joyed a spell of civilization before getting back to the line, 
all the shops where they had made friends with the people 
who took their money, were closed up — if they were not 
knocked down — and Amiens became a deserted city into 
which presently large numbers of German shells came crash- 
ing, and where on the way to the line or back from it some 
of us ate our sandwiches in the wreckage of the public 
gardens, where great shell-holes gape and iron railings lay 
smashed, and trees lay across the flower-beds, and the 
silence of this abandoned city, which many of us had loved 
because of its old beauty and cheerful life, was broken only 
by the tramp of soldiers marching through. Is it perhaps 
to be counted unto the Germans for righteousness that they 
did not destroy the Cathedral by gun-fire ? At any rate the 
glory of Amiens was hardly touched. Some rare command 
must have restrained them from that outrage. Amiens itself 
did not fall in spite of the rumour on the morning after that 
night of bombing that German cavalry were advancing down 
the Villers-Bretonneux road. The Australians on the north 
of the Somme, and the French on the south, arrived in time 
to relieve or support our weak forces, and Foch with splen- 
did faith rejoiced the heart of France by saying, "I guar- 
antee Amiens." 

It was not the end of the ordeal for British troops. A 
new thunder-storm broke upon us in the north, where Rup- 
precht's army had been waiting to strike, and the enemy 
made a new tremendous effort to break through to the coast 
and drive us into the sea. Even now I think that was our 
worst peril and the period of our darkest days. It began on 
April 9 with an attack in great force between Fleurbaix and 
Givenchy against our .-;oth Division on the left at Fleurbaix, 


our 55th on the right at Givenchy, and the Portuguese in the 
centre by Laventie and Neuve Chapelle. The Germans had 
concentrated a mass of artillery on this front, and they 
opened their attack with a barrage of appalling intensity and 
depth, while they fired long-range high-velocity guns at all 
our villages in back areas, as far back as Aire and St.-Pol, 
twenty miles or so away, and ranged upon our cross-roads 
and lines of communication. They blotted out the Portu- 
guese front trenches and outposts, and then advanced into 
the centre of the line held by these troops with columns of 
infantry led by officers on horseback, and field-guns fol- 
lowed by transport. The Portuguese were unable to sus- 
tain the shock of this assault in overwhelming numbers and 
broke, falling back in hard retreat through Laventie and 
Richebourg-St.-Vast. Our centre, therefore, had been com- 
pletely broken, but the wings still held, and Fleurbaix and 
Givenchy were defended with magnificent courage by the 
40th and 55th Divisions, who caused the enemy enormous 
losses. As supporting troops to those two* gallant divisions 
we had the 51st Highlanders, who had been sent up north 
for a rest after their terrible time in the retreat, and the 50th 
Division of Northumberland Fusiliers, East Yorks, and 
Durham Light Infantry; and for several weeks these men, 
joined later by some of the 25th Division, fought across the 
Lys, where the enemy forced the crossings, with a stub- 
bornness which has never been surpassed in war. They 
fought continual rearguard actions against numbers of fresh 
German troops, before whom they were but scattered hand- 
fuls of desperate men. They fought until they were sur- 
rounded, and after they were surrounded until they could 
hardly stand for weariness, and were so thinned by losses 
that battalions were down to companies, and companies but 
little groups led by subalterns and sergeants, or grim souls 
among their own ranks who would not surrender, but went 
on fighting. The enemy crossed the Lys, stormed his way 
through Estaires and Merville, struck up to Steenwerck, 
surrounded Armentieres, and entered Bailleul and Meteren, 


while at the same time he swung down from the north 
against our 9th (Scottish) and 29th Divisions, and parts 
of the 19th and 25th Divisions, all very weak after many 
battles, and coming down over the Flanders ridges which we 
had gained by such sacrifice, regained Messines and 
Wytschaete, and advanced upon Kemmel. Later the 1st 
Australian Division which came down in a hurry towards 
the Amiens front, was turned back and sent into the line in 
front of La Moke, where they held the enemy, and during 
many weeks of stationary warfare inflicted great losses upon 
him. We were unable to send up reserves. But at the time 
of greatest peril we had no reserves to spare after our losses 
in the retreat over the Somme battlefields. Our Army was 
exhausted, and their only strength was the spirit of those 
men who responded to the call of the Commander-in-Chief 
to fight with their backs to the wall until help should come. 
There were bad things to see in those days, things which 
seared the heart of men familiar with the ways of war. 
For as I have told in this book the German advance across 
the Lys was so sudden that many old people and young girls 
and children were under the fire of their guns before they 
were convinced that they were menaced, and from scores of 
villages there was a hurried flight as in the first days of the 
war in Northern France and Belgium, and for long leagues 
the roads were crowded with these processions of fugitives, 
stricken and homeless. Round the Mont-des-Cats and Bail- 
leul I saw our batteries getting into action behind hedges 
and in back gardens, while young mothers were packing 
their children into perambulators, and old ladies wearing 
their best bonnets and black gowns, because that was the best 
way of saving them, left their cottages for ever — they have 
been pounded into dust and ashes — and scuttled down lanes 
and across fields where monstrous shells were bursting. One 
pretty girl in Robecque, which was then under fire, had such 
courage for the rescue of a little invalid sister and other 
babes and a poor scared mother that I shall remember her 
as a heroine of France — one of many in the land. Our sol- 


diers helped them as best they could, but they needed help 
themselves in this desperate time when we were weakest. 

Help came to them. It came when they were literally at 
the last gasp, but just in time to avert a great disaster. The 
first that came was a big force of French cavalry — squadron 
after squadron of Dragoons — who rode hard for 120 kilo- 
metres from the south of Amiens to Flanders. I saw their 
lances tipped with the sun streaming through the lanes and 
villages between Abbeville and St.-Omer, and drove close to 
this long tide of horsemen and heard the panting of their 
beasts, and looked into their hard, grim, lean-jawed faces, 
all powdered with the dust of the roads which swept about 
them like smoke. Then between Amiens and the sea there 
came behind our line with magic speed a strong French army 
of infantry — picked troops and splendid men. They came 
in motor-lorries, 600 lorries in one column, and then more 
and more, day after day, all driven by little monkey-like men 
from Annam and Cochin China in steel helmets, and the 
blue of all these French uniforms, which was like a winding 
river behind our lines of khaki. It was good to see those 
men, to see them watering our horses behind our lines, to 
watch their transport with lean beasts and spider wheels 
crawling up the roads, and their huge guns go by, and a 
never-ending column of soixante-quinze' s and bodies of 
French infantry in the shell-broken villages of Flanders 
ready for action. Our men had support at last, and there 
was strength instead of weakness between them and the sea. 
All troops have their unlucky days. Thus, though the first 
episode of French fighting in Flanders was the loss of Kem- 
mel, the most important outpost of that line of hills which 
was the last barrier between the enemy and the coast, yet in 
heroic fighting later they held their line between Locre Hos- 
pice and the Scherpenberg, and the enemy could not pass. 
For a time the Germans were brought to a halt, and this 
breathing space gave us time to dig new lines of defence, 
line after line, which were seen by German airmen, so that 
Rupprecht of Bavaria knew that it would cost him rivers of 


blood to break through now that the French were with us 
in strength. He waited for events elsewhere, keeping 
twenty-nine fresh divisions in reserve to strike us again 
when the French should be called away. 

The scene of action shifted. This time it was the Crown 
Prince who struck, and the French who had to bear the 
brunt of a surprise attack. On May 27 the French front on 
the Aisne, between Soissons and Rheims, was stormed by 
twenty-five German divisions, supported by seventeen others, 
some of which came from the army of von Hutier. Four 
British divisions, the 15th, 8th, 21st, and 25th, all of whom 
had been heavily engaged in our battles since March 21, and 
had suffered many losses, were on the right of this line be- 
tween Craonne and Berry-au-Bac, and it was not until din- 
ner-time on the evening before the battle that their com- 
manding officers had any inkling of impending attack. The 
enemy had assembled his troops and his guns with profound 
secrecy and gained the full effect of surprise. The French 
centre at the Chemin-des-Dames was broken, and the British 
troops on the right wing had to fall back with them after 
two hours of tremendous bombardment, followed by in- 
fantry attacks in depth. They fell back, blowing up the 
bridges, and the enemy pouring in fresh divisions against 
the French struck down past Fismes, and reached the 
Marne at Chateau Thierry on June 11 of this year 1918. 

It was a blow at the heart of France, and a shiver passed 
through the French people and our people whose fate was 
bound up with theirs. During a few days of quietude on 
the British front I went by motor-car to Paris, and all the 
way from Beauvais, where in the early days of 1914 I heard 
the German guns coming close, and saw the deserted streets 
defended by broken glass and barbed wire, while a tall 
Cuirassier stood by the bridge waiting to blow it up; there 
were the same scenes of tragedy which I had hoped never to 
see again, with people packing up their household furniture 
and taking to the long trail of the roads to escape capture by 
the enemy. So it was past Meaux and Senlis, and the vil- 


lages along the road to Paris. Dear God, it was sad to come 
to Paris again in a time like this! Once before I had en- 
tered Paris when the enemy was close to it, and walking its 
deserted streets, past its shuttered shops, up to the Etoile 
and the Arc-de-Triomphe, had prayed with a kind of pas- 
sion that all this beauty might be spared, and that this great 
city, whose people I loved, might never be entered by an 
army of looters, nor suffer from the fury of their bombard- 
ment. That peril passed in September of 1914, when Foch 
struck on the Marne and the German tide was rolled back 
to the Aisne. But after four years of heroic effort Paris 
' was threatened again. Once again many of its people had 
fled. Many of its shops were shut. And although there was 
more life in Paris than in that September of the first year 
of the war when it was a desert, it was easy to see the dis- 
tress of the Parisians, the nervous tension which once more 
had put these people on the rack, and the sense of fearful 
expectation which brooded in every part of the city. I 
walked from the Rue St.-Honore to the Boulevard St.-Ger- 
main, and to the top of the Rue Cherche Midi at eight 
o'clock on a sunny evening, and met only eight people. The 
people of Paris kept indoors and they had troubled hearts. 
A new menace had come to them. At the outset of the Ger- 
man attack a fantastic thing had happened. Shells fell into 
the city, killing women and children here and there, falling 
into a church and a babies' creche. At the first explosions 
Paris said, "It is a daylight raid," but no aeroplane could be 
seen. Le Temps was the first to announce a long-range Ger- 
man gun, some new and devilish contrivance. ."Fat Bertha" 
they called this beast lurking in the forest of Coucy, and 
after a time, according to the way of Paris, they made a 
joke of it, and when a shell burst I saw midinettes and shop- 
keepers running and laughing towards the place of the ex- 
plosion. But the fear and threat that many other guns 
might fire on Paris made many people leave with their wives 
and children, and the shadow of the German army at Cha- 
teau-Thierry crept over Paris and stayed there on the faces 


of its citizens. Foch waited. It was hard for him to wait 
because he believes that attack is the best defence. But he 
knew that his chance was coming, and that the Germans 
were playing into his hands if only he could get enough 
troops to strike. A powerful thrust between Montdidier and 
Noyon, with the object of striking down to Compiegne, had 
been thwarted by the stubborn defence of the French troops 
there, supported by an American division, which fought 
with splendid courage. The Germans had, therefore, left 
themselves in a deep salient below Soissons and Rheims, and 
they offered him weak flanks. After all their fighting 
against the British they had not many divisions in reserve 
except those in Rupprecht's army up north, and they be- 
lieved Foch had so dissipated his strength that he could 
not take advantage of their dangerous geographical position. 
Foch had dissipated part of his army of reserve, that was 
true. He had hated to do so, guessing what was coming, but 
he had saved the coast by flinging up his men behind our 
lines at the last moment possible, and now he would bring 
them back again. 

With the same magic by which they had appeared along 
the British front they disappeared. Those long columns of 
lorries driven by monkey-looking men tore back through the 
dust, and the cavalry rode their horses hard down the same 
roads, but the other way, and by rail and road the French 
guns travelled to their own front again. From the Vosges 
and from many parts of France, where they had been hold- 
ing quiet sectors of the line or training in back areas, 
another army was on the move. American divisions of 
fresh and fine men came winding along the roads and lanes 
up to Meaux and Villers-Cotteret, moving by night, secretly. 
And down from the British front, very secretly too, went 
three British divisions, the 15th (Scottish), the 62nd (York- 
shires), and the 51st (Highlanders). The Generalissimo 
of the Allied Armies had reconstituted his reserves, and on 
July 20 he struck. During the worst time that had hap- 
pened when the Germans were advancing to Chateau- 


Thierry an English statesman was in Foch's headquarters, 
and he said to him : 

"What do you think of the situation, sir?" 

Foch was silent for a little while, and then he said with 
the utmost simplicity : 

"I cannot help pitying Ludendorff." 

The English statesman was astounded, and then Foch 

"His task is much more difficult than mine." 

He had a prevision of his counterstroke and faith in his 
own judgment. He struck at the psychological moment, 
neither too soon nor too late, and the enemy was taken by 
surprise, and on both sides of the salient his lines were 
broken, and his crush of men inside the salient, all ready 
for the final blow on Paris, were caught between two pincers 
and forced to retreat or to surrender en masse. Westwards 
from Rheims, and eastwards below Soissons, and north- 
wards across the Marne, the Allied Armies advanced fight- 
ing against desperate resistance, but breaking it and driving 
into the centre of the salient by Fere-en-Tardenois. There 
were great captures in men and guns, and the Crown Prince 
cried for help to Rupprecht of Bavaria. Rupprecht had 
been clinging to his twenty-nine fresh divisions in reserve to 
deal us a death-blow, but the plight of the Crown Prince 
forced him to yield some of his troops, and as the Allied 
pressure became greater between the Marne and the Aisne 
he sent division after division to the Crown Prince's army, 
and the threat against us withered away, and our turn to 
strike was coming again. 

It came on August 8, when the Tank Corps in full strength 
assembled in darkness and in cover of woods, north and 
south of the Somme, where on the north the Australians 
were in full order of battle, and on the south the whole of 
the Canadian corps had been transferred from the Arras 
district to the line outside Amiens, between Villers-Breton- 
neux and Hangard Wood, with the French on their right. 

The greatest honour is due to the Australians. Ever 


since their arrival on the Amiens line they had taken the 
offensive, and General Monagu, their corps commander, had 
fought a series of small and brilliant battles, which had 
gradually driven the enemy away from the approaches to 
Amiens itself. Now, after all that fighting they expressed 
themselves as willing and eager to begin an offensive move- 
ment on a big scale, and they proved very quickly that they 
had not cherished false illusions about their spirit and 

Having the bad luck to be ill in England at this time I 
missed the opening phases of our splendid recovery of the 
ground that had been lost during our retreat in March, and 
picked up the thread of history later when the enemy was 
in hard retreat to his Hindenburg line, pursued with un- 
tiring spirit by British troops to Bapaume, where I fol- 
lowed them on that morning, and across the Somme battle- 
fields, where I went up to them at Longueval and Delville 
Wood which they had just captured, and round Peronne r 
where there was brilliant fighting by the Australians at Mont 
St.-Quentin. I am told by Canadian officers that the first 
morning of our offensive was an astounding sight as 
column after column of men moved out of the early morn- 
ing mists in the wake of large numbers of Tanks, whose 
pilots and crews fought that day and for several days with 
wonderful gallantry, smashing down nests of machine-guns, 
rounding up bodies of German infantry, and taking all risks 
in forward positions from which they came under the fire of 
German anti-Tank guns which knocked some of them out by 
direct hits. It was open warfare on a grand scale, real 
open warfare of an old-fashioned kind, and masses of 
cavalry with their pennons flying and their lances in rest 
streamed across country in a wonderful pageant, riding 
through the ruined villages, cutting off small woods and 
copses in which Germans were still serving their machine- 
guns, and reconnoitring the enemy's rear-guards. The 
Canadian brigades advanced in depth, brigade passing 
through brigade in the country north of the Amiens-Roye 


road, and breaking through the lines which the enemy tried 
to hold by machine-gun power cleared a wide territory, in- 
cluding the ruined villages of Bouchoir and Le Quesnoy 
and Damery, close to the town of Roye itself, where they 
were joined by the French. North of them the Australians 
were equally triumphant and captured a large tract of 
country south and north of the Somme until they were on 
the outskirts of Peronne after hard and, here and there, 
costly fighting. North of the Australians, English, Scottish 
and Welsh divisions on the west side of the Ancre by Albert, 
with the gallant New Zealand division whose record of 
progress had been wonderful in its rapidity and staying 
power, and as other British troops far north as the banks 
of the Scarpe outside Arras began to move, and then 
throughout the remaining weeks of August and the begin- 
ning of September fought a continuous battle, driving the 
enemy back from one position to another above and below 
Bapaume, over all that old ground which was won first at 
frightful cost in the first battles of the Somme, lost again in 
the retreat of March this year, and won back in three weeks, 
without heavy losses considering all our gains in prisoners 
and ground, by the gallantry of men who had a big score 
to wipe out, a prestige to win back, and a spirit of certain 
victory. Nothing stopped them, though the enemy fought 
hard and had a machine-gun power amounting in some 
places to one gun to every four men. They did not stop, 
though they *were nights and days without sleep, and tired 
in every muscle and nerve. They were not inspired with 
a passion of hatred for the enemy — that is not their mood — 
it was not vengeance that spurred them on; they had no 
blood-lust in their hearts whatever stay-at-home patriots 
may like to think. They had a rough good-humour with 
the prisoners they bustled back, and had a Bank Holiday 
mood of geniality to all men after a day of good success. 
But it was pride which was their goad, the pride of men 
who had suffered the humiliation of retreat and were now 
coming back, determined to come back, and not to be stopped 


before they had put the enemy in his own place again. Each 
day of success cheered them on to another, and each 
division was in competition with the troops on the right 
and left, wanting to go one better, to take more prisoners, 
to set the pace. And the greatness of their success, the 
rapidity of this advance, the increasing demoralization of 
the enemy under this eager pressure, rilled them with the 
highest hopes now that they had got the enemy on the run. 
This vision was in each man's eyes and heart, the splendid 
vision of such striking victories that there would no longer 
be the dreary vista of long years of war, but the end in 
sight at last. So they went on, these English battalions of 
ours who have had such rough days in four years' of war 
without much fame or notoriety, whose sacrifice has been 
enormous, who can hardly count the battles they have 
fought, and whose comrades lie buried beneath the little 
white crosses in that great graveyard of France which is 
our field of honour. I saw the pageant of the day, the grim 
pageantry of battle, on the day we broke the Drocourt- 
Queant line, the strong switch of the Hindenburg line, 
which the German command had ordered to be held at all 
costs, but from which very early there came back thousands 
of prisoners, carrying their wounded and eager for escape 
from their own battle-line. The 2nd German Guards 
laughed and cheered when fresh batches of their comrades 
came down, and urged our men to go on fighting and take 
more of them, so that the war might end more quickly. 
Truly, it looked then as though the end might come more 
quickly than one had dared dream or hope. 

Alas! it may not end quickly even now. In spite of all 
the prisoners we have taken since the beginning of our 
counter-stroke in August, in spite of the arrival of the 
American Army on the battlefields, and their brilliant suc- 
cess in the St.-Mihiel salient, where for the first time they 
fought a big battle of their own, and proved the quality 
which we all knew they had, these fine, fresh, keen, and 
modest men who have come with a young spirit into this 


war-weary Europe to fight for ideals which are less con- 
fused than ours, clearer-cut, above old traditions, and old 
jealousies, and old hatreds ; and, lastly, in spite of weaken- 
ing German man-power and a growing despair of German 
peoples, there may still be a long period of most bloody 
fighting. The enemy will fight like a wounded tiger to pro- 
tect his own frontiers, and by falling back under pressure 
to shorter lines will maintain a long and desperate defence. 
The machine-gun is a weapon very deadly in defence, and 
by falling back on to switch lines, and organizing villages, 
and making machine-gun emplacements in every bit of 
ruin, rear-guards may delay the progress of a superior 
enemy and make him pay heavy losses for advance. So if 
we force the enemy to fight to the last ditch the way is still 
long before he gets there, and peace is still at the end of a 
far vista of hope. But Germany is already defeated in all 
her ambitions and has the knowledge of the doom that is 
overtaking her philosophy of force, and it is by the steady 
courage and the immense sacrifice of our own troops, as 
well as those of our Allies, that this overthrow of Ger- 
many's menace to Europe has been assured. 


The Surprise Attack 

November 21, 1917 
The enemy yesterday morning had a bitter surprise, when, 
without any warning by the ordinary preparations that are 
made before battle, without any sign of strength in men 
and guns behind our front, without a single shot fired 
before the attack, and with his wire — great belts of hide- 
ously strong wire — still intact, our stroops suddenly as- 
saulted him at dawn, led forward by great numbers of tanks, 
smashed through his wire, passed beyond to his trenches, 
and penetrated in many places the main Hindenburg line 
and the Hindenburg support line beyond. Our attacking 
troops were the 51st (Highland) and 62nd Divisions of 
the 4th Corps, and the 6th, 12th, and 20th Divisions of the 
3rd Corps, from north to south. The 29th Division passed 
through the 3rd Corps when the attack had developed, and 
the 56th (London) Division was in support of the 4th 
Corps. The 36th (Ulster) Division was on the extreme 
left, by the Canal du Nord, near Hermies. 

It was a surprise to the enemy, and, to be frank, it will be 
a surprise to all our officers and men in other parts of the 
line, and to my mind it is the most sensational and dramatic 
episode of this year's fighting, ingeniously imagined and 
carried through with the greatest secrecy. Not a whisper of 



it had reached men like myself, who are always up arid 
down the lines, and since the secret of the Tanks them- 
selves, who suddenly made their appearance in the Somme, 
last year, this is, I believe, the best-kept secret of the war. 
The enemy knew nothing of it, although during the last 
twenty-four hours or so certain uneasy suspicions seems to 
have been aroused among his troops immediately in front 
of the attack. But his Higher Command did not dream of 
such a blow. How could the enemy guess in his wildest 
nightmare that a blow would be struck at him quite sud- 
denly — at that Hindenburg line of his, enormously strong 
in wire, and redoubts, and tunnels, and trenches, and with- 
out any artillery preparation or any sign of gun-power be- 
hind our front ? It is true that he had withdrawn many of 
his guns from this quiet part of the front, but until that 
wire of his was cut in the usual way by days of bombard- 
ment and after artillery registration which gives away all 
secrets, he had every right to believe himself safe — every 
right, though he was wrong. He did not know that during 
recent nights great numbers of Tanks were crawling along 
the roads towards Havrincourt and our lines below the 
Flesquieres Ridge, hiding by day in the copses of this 
wooded and rolling country beyond Peronne and Bapaume. 
Indeed, he knew little of all that was going on before him 
under cover of darkness. 

For our Generals and Staff Officers directing this opera- 
tion there were hours of anxiety and suspense as the time 
drew near for the surprise attack. It was the most auda- 
cious adventure, and depended absolutely on surprise. Had 
the secret been kept? It looked as though the enemy sus- 
pected something a night or two ago, when he raided our 
trenches and captured two or three prisoners. Had those 
men told anything or had they kept the secret like brave 
men ? All was on the hazard of that. It was probable that 
night sentries had heard the movement of traffic on these 
quiet, silent nights — the clatter of gun wheels over rough 
roads, the rumble of transport behind the lines. But his 


wire was still uncut, and no new batteries revealed them- 
selves, and that was the thing which might lull all his 
suspicions. To attack against uncut wire has always been 
death to the infantry, and every time till this it has been 
the guns' job. We know now that, whatever suspicions 
were aroused, the surprise was made yesterday morning. 
We caught the enemy "on the hop," as the men say, and in 
spite of uneasy moments in the night they had no proof of 
what was coming to them and no time to prepare against 
the blow. Some thousands of prisoners have been taken, 
and most of them say that the first thing they knew of the 
attack was when out of the mist they saw the tanks ad- 
vancing upon them, smashing down their wire, crawling over 
their trenches and nosing forward with gun-fire and ma- 
chine-gun fire slashing from their sides. The Germans 
were aghast and dazed. Many hid down in their dugouts 
and tunnels, and then surrendered. Only the steadiest and 
bravest of them rushed to the machine-guns and got them 
into action, and used their rifles to snipe our men. Out of 
the silence which had been behind our lines a great fire 
of guns came upon them. They knew they had been caught 
by an amazing stratagem, and they were full of terror. 
Behind the tanks, coming forward in platoons, the infantry 
swarmed, cheering and shouting, trudging through the 
thistles, while the tanks made a scythe of machine-gun fire 
in front of them, and thousands of shells came screaming 
over the Hindenburg lines. The German artillery made but 
a feeble answer. Their gun positions were being smothered 
by the fire of all our batteries, and there were not many 
German batteries, and the enemy's infantry could get no 
great help from them. They were caught. German officers 
knew that they had been caught, like their men, like rats 
in a trap. It was their black day. 

I think all our men felt the drama of this adventure and 
had the thrill of it — a thrill which I believe had departed 
out of the war because of the ferocity of shell-fire and the 
staleness of war's mechanism and formula of attack. To 


me it seemed the queerest thing to be on the roads again 
down south, where we followed the Germans up in their 
retreat in March of this year, and to pass over the Somme 
once more, to reach the first villages of the old war two 
years ago, and then the great track of that desolate, de- 
stroyed country where the enemy in his retreat blew up 
every village, cut down the trees, and laid waste to all the 
countryside. A few days ago I was looking at Passchen- 
daele in the mist. Could it be real that yesterday morning 
at dawn I was passing through Peronne, with the first pale 
light of the sky upon its ruins, across the wooden bridges 
and into that square where the Royal Warwicks came first 
to look upon the German destruction of a fair little city? 
The houses were burning when I went in the first time. 
Only their ashes remained to-day, but it was stranger now 
after Passchendaele to come back for this other battle 
which had come so swiftly and so stealthily. 

The battle had begun and our men had already gone away 
to the Hindenburg line when I went forward through the 
thistles — it was startling to see the absence of mud and 
shell-craters — and walked over to the village of Beau- 
camp and the front-line trenches from which our men were 
attacking. Just to the left of me was the brown earth of 
those newly dug assembly trenches — I think they must have 
been dug in the night — and a little beyond the white parapets 
of the Hindenburg line and beyond that again for a few 
hundred yards the villages of Ribecourt and Flesquieres, 
towards which our men were fighting. Behind me were our 
field-batteries and heavies through which I had passed. 
They were not in hiding, but in full view of the astonished 
enemy, and firing an intense bombardment, so that the air 
was filled with the scream of the shells and with the fright- 
ful thumping of the fire, and one's ears were deafened. For 
miles the white mists of the early morning were thrust 
through with gun-flashes, and having left the Ypres salient 
where it seemed to me we had most of our guns, it was 
astounding to see so many batteries here. 


From the ruins of Beaucamp I walked across to the Fles- 
quieres Ridge. To the left of me was the wood of Tres- 
cault, and higher up Havrincourt Wood and the chateau 
of Havrincourt, which is still standing, though in ruin, 
outside the village where there are roofless houses and up- 
right walls, unlike the villages in the Flanders fighting, 
which have only a stone or two and a stick or two to mark 
their site. The battle picture was the most wonderful 
thing I had seen until then in this war — wonderful because 
very strange. War in South Africa, before intense bom- 
bardments as we know them had been invented, must have 
been like this. The country in our lines and the enemy's was 
rolling and green, unpitted by those great craters which 
make the Flemish battlefields. For miles it was dotted 
about with camps, horses, guns, gun-limbers, transport, and 
all the movement of an army in action. Numbers of Tanks 
were on the battlefield, resting a while for another advance 
— strange grey masses in the pale light of the morning, 
scarcely visible at any distance. 

I spoke to one of the pilots. 

"How are you doing ?" 

"We are giving them merry hell," he said; "it is our 
day out." 

He was thoroughly pleased with himself, and only sorry 
that his tank was temporarily indisposed. 

As I stood looking down on the battle, seeing only the 
gun-fire and nothing of the infantry in the thistles, though 
I was very close, I heard the awful sweep of machine-gun 
fire from the flanks of the Tanks. It was answered by ma- 
chine-gun fire from enemy redoubts in Lateau Wood, where 
there was heavy fighting going on, and in Flesquieres vil- 
lage on the height of the crest in front of where I stood by 
Beaucamp, and from the direction of Havrincourt. It was 
a very dreadful sound, in one steady blast of fire from 
many of those weapons — from hundreds of them — and 
broken into by the sharp staccato hammering, like a coffin 
maker with his tacks, from single machine-guns closer tc 


our captured ground. Hardly a shell-burst came from the 
enemy's side. I think I saw only a dozen big shells burst 
anywhere near our batteries, though the fire of shrapnel 
was greater over our lines of advance — greater, but with 
nothing like the intensity of the battle up north. It was 
clear at a glance that the enemy was weak in artillery. One 
of our battalions, the Royal Fusiliers, gained their objectives 
without a single casualty. Other battalions of English 
county regiments had very light losses, and they were 
mostly from machine-gun bullets. At the field dressing- 
station on the southern part of the attack they had only re- 
ceived 200 walking wounded by eleven o'clock in the morn- 
ing — five hours or so after the battle began. 

They were very few as battles go now, but I hated to see 
those poor fellows coming out of the fighting and making 
their way down in long, long trails to the dressing-station. 
Some of them could hardly hobble, and every few hundred 
yards had to sit down and lean up against the bank of a 
sunken road. Some of them were helped down by German 
prisoners, and it was queer to see one of our men with his 
arms round the necks of two Germans. German wounded, 
helped down by our men less hurt than they, walked in 
the same way, with their arms round the necks of our men, 
and sometimes an English soldier and a German soldier 
came along together very slowly, arm in arm, like old 
cronies. Most of the prisoners on my side of the battlefield 
were from the 20th Landwehr Division, which had relieved 
the 54th overnight. They were Brunswick men, and oldish 
fellows. Through the fields of thistles came single figures 
and little groups of wounded, and on the sides of some of 
the tracks were groups of prisoners with their guards, and 
on the ground badly wounded men on stretchers waiting for 
relays of stretcher-bearers or ambulances. 

Some of the ambulance drivers were wonderful, and 
drove within a few hundred yards of the battle to pick up 
the fallen men. In spite of their pain and weariness, the 
wounded always had a cheery word to say. "How is it 


going?" I asked, and man after man said: "Oh, it's splen- 
did ; we're doing grand ; the boys are going straight on." 

One man, a Cockney fellow wounded in the leg, kept a 
group of comrades halted for a rest on their way back in 
roars of laughter as he described his adventures of the 
morning, and how he was hit by a German sniper who 
suddenly appeared out of the trench. He used lurid lan- 
guage, but was so comical and honest a fellow that a padre 
standing near joined in the shouts of laughter that followed 
his monologue. This padre and others went very close to 
the lines with hot coffee and brandy in their flasks to meet 
the wounded and help them. 

One of the wonders of the day was the work of our air- 
men. Just after dawn they came flying overhead so low 
that they seemed to make a breeze over my steel hat, so 
low that they waved hands to the infantry and shouted 
cheery words to them as they went through the enemy's 
lines. In the air the enemy was stone dead yesterday morn- 
ing. He had been caught napping in the sky, as well as on 
the earth. 

I am not allowed to give our exact gains to-day, and it is 
not well perhaps that the enemy should know them just now. 
But in a little while I hope to tell the whole story from start 
to finish, when it will, I hope, gladden people who have 
been sadly tried by bad news of late from other fronts. In 
strategy, it seems to me the battle may prove the best ad- 
venture we have had, and the enemy was utterly deceived. 

Wednesday Night 
In my earlier message, which was held back for military 
reasons of the soundest kind, I was able to give only the 
outline and the beginning of the most striking strategical 
blow we have ever inflicted on the enemy. Now, after more 
hours spent in the area of fighting at Ribecourt and the 
Flesquieres Ridge, with a battle in progress to the left where 
the great Bois de Bolnon dominates the ground, I am able 


to give more details about this dramatic adventure of our 
troops and there is no longer need of secrecy. 

I have already told how we surprised the enemy by the 
stealthiness of our preparation, by the absence of all shell- 
fire from the batteries moved up to new positions in the 
darkness, and by the skilful distribution of all bodies of 
troops in well-chosen positions. What I was not able to 
tell earlier was that a mass of cavalry was also brought up 
and hidden very close to the enemy's lines, ready to make a 
sweeping drive should the Hindenburg line be pierced and 
broken by the advance of the tanks over the great belts of 
barbed wire and the deep wide trenches of the strongest lines 
on the Western Front. Yesterday I saw the cavalry in all 
this country waiting for their orders to saddle up and ride 
into the blue and take their first great chance. They be- 
longed to the 5th and 1st Cavalry Divisions, with the 2nd 
Cavalry Division in support. I was astounded to see them 
there, and was stirred by a sharp thrill of excitement not 
without some tragic foreboding. Because, after seeing 
much of war on this front of ours, and coming straight 
from Flanders with its terrifying artillery and frightful 
barrages, it seemed to me incredible that, after all, the 
cavalry should ride out into the open and round up the 
enemy; and I had seen the Hindenburg line up by Bulle- 
court and Queant, and knew the strength of it and the depth 
of the barbed-wire belts that surround it. The cavalry were 
in the highest spirits and full of a tense expectation. Young 
cavalry officers galloped past smiling and called out a cheery 
good-morning like men who have good sport ahead. In the 
folds of the land towards the German lines there were thou- 
sands of cavalry horses massed in parks, with the horse ar- 
tillery limbered up and ready for their ride. All through 
yesterday morning infantry officers and men taking part in 
the advance asked the question, "When are the cavalry going 
through?" and then I heard the news, "The cavalry are 
through," and with all my heart and soul I wished them luck 
on the ride. This morning very early, in a steady rain and 


wet mist, I saw squadrons of them going towards the fight- 
ing-line, and it was the most stirring sight I have seen for 
many a long day in this war, and one which I sometimes 
thought I should never live to see. They rode past me as 
I walked along a road through our newly captured ground, 
and across the Hindenburg line. They streamed by at a 
quick trot, and the noise of all the horses' hoofs was a 
strange rushing sound. The rain slashed down upon their 
steel hats, and all their capes were glistening, and the mud 
was flung up to the horses' flanks, and as, in long columns, 
they went up and down the rolling country and cantered 
up a steep track, making a wide curve round two great mine- 
craters in the roads which the enemy blew up in his retreat, 
it was a wonderful picture to see and remember. A small 
body of Canadian cavalry had already gone ahead, and had 
been fighting in open country since midday yesterday, after 
crossing the bridges at Masnieres and Marcoing, which the 
enemy did not have time to- destroy. They had done well. 
One section rode down a battery of German guns and cap- 
tured them, and a patrol had ridden into Flesquieres village 
when the Germans were still there, and others had swept 
round German machine-gun emplacements and German vil- 
lages, and drawn many prisoners into their net. 

For strange, unusual drama, far beyond the most fan- 
tastic imagination, this attack on the Hindenburg lines be- 
fore Cambrai has never been approached on the Western 
Front, and the first act began when the Tanks moved for- 
ward, before the dawn, towards the long, wide belts of wire 
which they had to destroy before the rest could follow. 
These squadrons of Tanks were led into action by the gen- 
eral commanding their corps, who carried his flag on his 
own Tank — a most gallant man, full of enthusiasm for his 
monsters and their brave crews, and determined that this 
day should be theirs. To every officer and man of the 
Tanks he sent an order of the day before the battle, in most 
noble words, calling upon his men for their utmost devo- 
tion and service. They moved forward in small groups, 


several hundreds of them, and rolled down the German wire 
and trampled down its lines, and then crossed the deep gulf 
of the Hindenburg main line, pitching nose downwards as 
they drew their long bodies over the parapets, and rearing 
up again with their long, forward reach of body, and heav- 
ing themselves on to the German parados beyond. The 
German troops knew nothing of the fate that menaced them 
until out of the gloom of the dawn they saw these great 
numbers of grey, inhuman creatures bearing down upon 
them, crushing down their wire, crossing their impregnable 
lines, firing fiercely from their flanks, and sweeping the 
trenches with machine-gun bullets. 

A German officer whom I saw to-day, one out of thou- 
sands of prisoners who have been taken, described his own 
sensations. At first he could not believe his eyes. He 
seemed in some horrible nightmare and thought he had 
gone mad. After that, from his dug-out, he watched all 
the Tanks trampling about, and scrunching down the wire, 
and heaving themselves across his trenches and searching 
about for machine-gun emplacements, while his men ran 
about in terror trying to avoid the bursts of fire, and crying 
out in surrender. 

"What could we do?" said this officer; and others, "We 
could do nothing — we were amazed by the mobility of the 
Tanks, by their dreadful power, and our men would not 
stand against them. ,, 

All the German officers express their admiration of the 
attack, both by the Tanks and the infantry, and of the 
strategical idea of it. "A brilliant attack," they say; and, 
after all, they know best as the victims of it. 

November 21 
English troops of the 62nd, 6th, 20th, and 12th Divisions; 
Irish of the 36th (Ulster), and Scottish troops of the 51st 
(Highland) Division went behind the Tanks, in the great 
advance, cheering them on, laughing and cheering when they 
saw them get at the German wire and eat it up and then 


head for the Hindenburg line and cross it as though it were 
but a narrow ditch. Some of the German troops kept their 
nerve and served their machine-guns, firing between the 
Tanks at the infantry, but the Tanks dealt with them and 
silenced them. Some of the German snipers fired at our 
men at a few yards, and the infantry dealt with them master- 
fully. But for the most part the enemy broke as soon as 
the Tanks were on them and fled or surrendered. 

A few of the Tanks had bad luck, and I saw these cripples 
this morning where they were overturned by shell-fire or 
had become bogged. Elsewhere I saw one or two which 
had buried their noses deep into soft earth, and lay over- 
turned or head downwards over deep banks down which 
they had tried to crawl. But the Tank casualties were light, 
and large numbers of them went ahead and fought all day 
up the Flesquieres Ridge, and round the chateau of Havrin- 
court, where the enemy held out for some time, and across 
the bridges of Marcoing and Masnieres, and up to the neigh- 
bourhood of Noyelles and Graincourt and beyond Ribe- 
court. Isolated battalions of German infantry belonging to 
the 20th Landwehr and the 54th and 9th Reserve Divisions 
attempted counter-attacks and fought bravely at Havrin- 
court Chateau and in Lateau Wood on the right, and in 
Flesquieres village, where the Highland Territorials of the 
51st Division were held up by fierce machine-gun fire yes- 
terday afternoon. This defence of the village on the ridge 
was a serious impediment to our general advance, and a 
special attack was organized early this morning, which was 
carried out in a model way by Tanks and cavalry and skir- 
mishers of the English and Scottish troops, and the infantry 
following in open order. The village was stormed this 
morning, and the ridge was cleared, as I found when I 
went up to Ribecourt, where still German snipers were con- 
cealed firing at our men passing along the road. All about 
Flesquieres the fighting was fierce, and many gallant things 
were done by our men, and especially by the 2nd Durham 
Light Infantry, who charged seven German guns in action 


which had been firing at point-blank range on our advancing 
Tanks. The Durhams captured the guns and killed the gun- 
ners. At Primy Chapel the 1st West Yorks did a similar 
exploit, and with great heroism charged and captured three 
77's. Before five yesterday afternoon the crossings at Mar- 
coing and Masnieres and been secured, and our troops 
of the 29th Division were moving forward steadily, gath- 
ering in parties of prisoners and occupying the villages. In 
three at least of these villages they found numbers of French 
civilians, who came out rejoicing to meet their liberators. 
About 450 of these people were found in Masnieres, and I 
am told that in another village there were more than a 
thousand. Many of them are now on their way back to 
safety behind our lines. 

By half-past five English troops of the 29th Division who 
had been fighting heavily in Lateau Wood had cleared this 
position, and the snipers had been mopped up in Ribecourt 
by the 6th Division. The 4th Dragoon Guards had reached 
Nine Wood and Noyelles, where in the village the enemy 
fled at the approach of the Tanks. At half-past eight in the 
evening a counter-attack was reported upon English troops 
on the left, and then came the account of the charge of the 
Dragoon Guards against the guns near Noyelles, when they 
took forty prisoners and brought in the guns. Fighting 
ceased for most part of the night which closed in upon our 
infantry and cavalry and Tanks, but after this morning's 
dawn they were all on the move again, going forward still 
further into this strange open country where the grass 
grows and woods are living and French civilians are in vil- 
lages which until yesterday morning were Avell behind the 
German lines and almost untouched by shell-fire. 

On the left of this advance to-day there was heavy fight- 
ing, and when I was in that neighbourhood shortly after the 
earth had lightened for the day there was an incessant sweep 
of machine-gun fire, never ceasing for hours, as the Tanks 
engaged the enemy's machine-guns and redoubts, and the 
cavalry and infantry swept toward those positions. Behind 


our lines our Army was on the move, and every man was 
working with new spirit and energy because of this move- 
ment, and was filled with enthusiasm because of our won- 
derful surprise to the enemy in his strongest lines. It was 
this effect of surprise which pleased our men most. "This 
is the sort of war we like," they said; "we have caught old 
Fritz bending." That surprise and the absence of high ex- 
plosives from hostile artillery seemed to bring back for once 
the older style of war when it was a great though always a 
bloody adventure. 

It was dead quiet in Ribecourt village, though snipers 
were round about it, I am told. When I drew near to it, I 
wondered to see such a place in the battlefields. It was not 
like the "villages" of the Somme and Flanders. It had real 
houses standing, real walls, real roofs, little red-brick houses 
and villas, old grey barns, and whitewashed farmsteads, 
gardens, and garden gates. It seemed quite untouched by 
war at a thousand yards, but when I went closer and into it, 
I saw that this was partly an illusion, and that there were 
shell-holes in the walls and in the roofs, and that some of 
the houses were gutted, and that it had been "unhealthy" 
enough under our guns, to drive the enemy's garrison under- 
ground into deep dug-outs and concreted tunnels. I went 
down into these places and saw how the enemy had left 
all his goods behind him in his flight, his machine-guns and 
ammunition, his revolvers and field-glasses now the property 
of English and Scottish soldiers, his picture postcards, and 
even, poor devil, his love letters. One dug-out I went into 
had been a machine-gun redoubt, very strong and well built, 
and arranged perfectly for comfort and defence. Nine 
prisoners were dragged out of this place, but somehow they 
had managed to destroy or hide their machine-guns, though 
not the accessories and ammunition of their weapons. I 
have no time to write more of what I saw to-day and yes- 
terday — strange, unforgettable pictures of war in the open, 
but I would like to finish my message with a tribute to 
General Sir Julian Byng and all the officers under his com- 


mand who devised and organized this bold adventure — real 
strategy of a most brilliant character — and kept it secret un- 
til the attack was launched by skilful plans. To General Sir 
Julian Byng, who commanded the Canadians before and 
after the capture of the Vimy Ridge before he succeeded 
General Allenby to the command of the Third Army, and to 
his Staffs of the Army and the corps, a great share in the 
honour of these days is due, as well as to those officers and 
the men who are now going through the rain and the mists 
in this new phase of open warfare. 


Rescued Civilians 

November 22 
In the break made in the Hindenburg line our infantry, 
cavalry, and Tanks are still active, and there was heavy 
fighting this morning up near Bourlon Wood and the vil- 
lage of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, to the east of it, and not 
much more than two miles away from Cambrai. This vil- 
lage was entered yesterday afternoon by a combined opera- 
tion of Tanks and cavalry, who captured a number of pris- 
oners, and released over a hundred civilians. These people 
were overjoyed when our men had delivered them from the 
enemy, and to show their gratitude they set about making 
coffee for the officers and crews of the Tanks, surrounding 
the Tanks themselves and expressing their astonishment at 
these strange machines, of which they had heard only queer 
fantastic tales from German soldiers. This morning, when 
I went up to the Front, I met the first crowd of liberated 
people and felt as all of us do the same emotion which came 
to us in March of this year, when, after the German retreat 
east of Bapaume and Peronne, we met the civilians who, 
since the beginning of the war, had been in the hands of the 
enemy and under his rule. The people I saw to-day — gath- 


ered together in a ruined village in the heart of all these new 
scenes of war, with a tide of cavalry streaming up the roads, 
with Tanks crawling on the hillsides and guns firing across 
the open fields, and new batches of German prisoners tramp- 
ing down under escort, muddy, haggard, dazed by the swift 
turn of fortune's wheel, which had flung them into our 
hands when they seemed so safe behind their great lines — 
were all from Masnieres, near to Marcoing, where 450 of 
them had awaited the coming of the English in feverish ex- 
citement as soon as they heard the approach of our advance- 
guards. They were pitiful groups of men, women, and 
children, pitiful because of their helplessness in this corner 
of the war, among the guns. Some of the women had 
babies with them, in perambulators and wooden boxes on 
wheels, into which, also, they had tucked a few things from 
their abandoned homes. Some of them were young women, 
neatly dressed, but all plastered with mud after their tramp 
across the battlefields, and woefully bedraggled. Some of 
the little girls had brought their dogs with them, and one 
child had a bird in a cage. There were sturdy peasants 
among them, and old, old folk, with wrinkled faces and 
frightened eyes because of this strange adventure in their 
old age, and young men of military age, who had not been 
taken away, like most of their comrades, for forced labour, 
because their work was useful to the enemy in their own 
district, as in the case of a good-looking young barber, to 
whom I talked, and who had shaved German officers and 
men for three years in Masnieres. These people looked 
woebegone as they waited in the ruins for English lorries 
to take them away to safety, but in their hearts there was 
a great joy, as I found when I spoke to them, but they had 
a bitter hatred of the enemy because of the discipline put 
upon them, and their servitude, and most of all, and all in 
all, because he is the enemy of their country and the de- 
stroyer of their land and blood. They told me that after 
the coming of the Germans, in the early days of 1914, when 
the Uhlans entered Masnieres and fought with French and 


English cavalry at Crevecceurt where our cavalry was again 
fighting yesterday, they had no liberty and no property. 
The Germans requisitioned everything they had almost — 
their pigs and their poultry, and their grain and their wine. 
If a peasant hid a hen he was heavily fined or put in 
prison. If he was discovered with a bottle of wine he was 
fined ten francs or put in prison. In Mesnieres there were 
some big, fine houses, like that of M. Millais, a rich manu- 
facturer, full of good furniture and pictures. They were 
stripped and left bare. The very floors were taken up, and 
in all the little houses there was a search made for any bit 
of lead piping, for any bit of brass or metal. The civil 
population were fed almost entirely by the American Relief 
Committee, and after the entry of America into the war by 
the Spanish-Dutch Committee, which carried on the work. 
"Without that," they told me, "we should have starved." 
The men were all put to work for their enemy in fields or in 
the workshops, and women were made to sweep the roads, to 
wash the dirty linen of the German soldiers, to clean out 
rooms which were filled and refilled with vermin of the 
trenches. The commandants of the village were generally 
young lieutenants, very supercilious, very strict, but on the 
other hand not brutal or unjust. They were hard with the 
French people, as they were hard with their men. 

The Mayor of Masnieres, with whom I spoke to-day, said 
that there is no doubt, no shadow of doubt that the German 
people are suffering from the most severe privations, from 
real hunger so much that the officers often address the men 
on parade and in their lecture-rooms, and tell them that 
the courage of Germany is greater at the back than at the 
front, and that the soldiers must stand firm because they 
are suffering less than the people at home. Other men told 
me the same thing to-day. Among the civilians was a 
German soldier in the field-grey tunic, under civilian clothes, 
though a Frenchman of Lorraine like another German sol- 
dier with him, who was an Alsatian. According to the story 
of the Lorrainer he served in his own province during the 


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greater part of the war, and saw the extreme hunger of the 
people there. When he was sent to the Western Front he 
determined to escape, and saw his chance two days ago, 
when we broke down the Hindenburg line, and advanced 
upon Masnieres. He hid himself among the civilians and 
disguised himself in civil clothes, and stayed in a barn 
until our men entered the village. The first news that came 
to these people of the change that was upon them was when 
they heard the firing of our guns on Tuesday morning, and 
later the sound of rifle shots and machine-gun fire. The 
German soldiers, about 340 of them, in Masnieres, were 
thrown into a panic, many of them lost their heads utterly 
and ran about like doomed men. But others went down to 
the bridgehead, under the orders of their officers, and de- 
fended the machine-gun emplacements on the canal bank. 
The civilians could see English soldiers on the other side of 
the canal firing with rifles and machine-guns, and then at 
about eleven in the morning they saw what seemed to them 
strange beasts crawling forward to the bridge. They were 
the Tanks, and they came forward very steadily, and the 
leading Tank advanced on to the bridge, which broke down 
under its weight. As they did so the German soldiers 
broke, and many of them fled ; but it was not until five min- 
utes before the English entered the village that the last two 
German machine-gunners left the bridgehead, and retreated. 
For some time German riflemen sniped from houses and 
barns, and some English field-guns were still firing into 
Masnieres. The French civilians were very frightened, and 
took refuge in their cellars, but they were buoyed up with 
the hope that their liberation was at hand, and then they 
rushed out to greet their liberators, weeping with joy. "For 
three years we lived in a nightmare," said the Mayor of 
Masnieres to me this morning, "and now we seem to be in 
a dream too good to be true." 

One man who has now come to our side of the line is a 
youngish man of thirty-eight or so, but with the look of 
one of sixty, and with a strange waxen colour like that of 


death. He has a strange history. For all these three years 
and more, since the beginning of the war, he has lived in 
hiding in a cellar of his own house, where German officers 
were billeted. He was fed by his wife out of the extra 
ration given to a baby born during the war. The house 
was searched once a week, according to rule, and both 
husband and wife would have been punished by death if the 
man had been discovered, but he was never found, and, by 
a queer chance, the morning that the English came to Mas- 
nieres was the day on which the house was to be searched 
again. The man, who is now free, has wept ever since his 
liberation from that dark cellar in the town. 


The Tunnel Trench to Bourlon Wood 

November 23 
The first great surprise of our attack across the Hinden- 
burg lines is over, and the free open fighting, when the cav- 
alry, Tanks, and infantry rounded up the enemy in French 
villages, has now been followed by closer fighting of the 
old style, with attacks and counter-attacks, ground gained 
and ground lost on both sides, while the enemy is making a 
strong stand with local forces and units hurriedly brought 
up in order 'to gain time for the arrival of stronger rein- 
forcements. He is massing men and guns in Cambrai, and 
preparing to hold a line of defence round that city if he 
is forced still further back from his present positions. The 
batde has continued to-day, and our troops and Tanks have 
been engaged in heavy fighting round Bourlon Wood, and 
at Fontaine-Notre-Dame, to the east of it, which we lost 
yesterday for a time, after a sharp counter-attack upon our 
Seaforth Highlanders, who entered it on Wednesday night 
with the Tanks. It is a tragedy for the poor civilians 
there that after a brief spell of liberty which they used to 


provide the Tank crews with coffee, some of them, if not 
all of them, fell again into the hands of the enemy. 

To-day we are attacking the village of Mceuvres, just 
southwest of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, which was also taken 
and lost after the great advance of the Ulstermen on the 
morning of the 21st. That attack of the Ulster battalions 
on the first two days of the battle was a hard and grim 
episode of the general action, and the ground was gained 
only by most persistent endeavours and courage. These men 
newly down from the battles of Flanders, where they had 
had terrible and tragic fighting, were determined to go far 
in this new field, and their spirit was high. They had no 
Tanks to cut the wire in front of them, as those machines 
were concentrated in large numbers on the right wing of 
the attack. The Ulstermen had the Hindenburg trenches 
before them, wide belts of wire, and on the other side of 
the trenches the deep ditch of the Canal du Nord, a most 
formidable series of defences. They had to break down 
the wire in front of them by bomb explosions and under 
heavy machine-gun fire from the trenches and the farther 
side of the canal bank, where the Germans were in their con- 
crete blockhouses and strong emplacements. At first they 
broke a way through all the obstacles, in spite of being hung 
up by the wire here and there, and the harassing fire of 
snipers, and they cleared the trenches of men who were de- 
moralized by the surprise and suddenness of the attack. 
Later some of the Ulstermen came up against a high "spoil" 
bank, or waste heap, sixty feet high from the canal bank, 
and defended from tunnelled dug-outs underneath. It was 
at about 8.30 in the morning that they captured the "spoil 
heap," and a crowd of prisoners in the dug-outs, and then 
tried to get astride the Cambrai road, and to cross the canal. 

A gallant little body of Belfast men, all from the ship- 
building works on Queen's Island, worked for hours under 
fire to build a bridge across and to repair a destroyed cause- 
way, so that the infantry could pass. This was done before 
dusk, and the Ulstermen seized the way across the Cam- 


brai road, but could not cross the canal or get forward 
very far owing to the fierce machine-gun fire that swept 
down upon them from the east side of the canal, where the 
enemy was holding Mceuvres and Graincourt. It was on 
Wednesday morning that the Inniskillings bombed their 
way into Mceuvres, and fought their way into the centre 
of the village, where a barricade had been put up against 
them. In the afternoon the enemy organized a counter- 
attack from one of the lochs on the Canal du Nord, but it 
did not drive back the Ulstermen; and it was not until 
yesterday morning, when our men had almost exhausted 
their ammunition and were spent after their long hours of 
fighting, that the enemy was able to drive a small wedge into 
our line. 

By this time most of Mceuvres was in our hands, but the 
enemy was able to get up strong bodies of grenadiers and 
riflemen, and before darkness came the Ulstermen with- 
drew to the southern edge of the village. All this time the 
West Riding troops of the 62nd Division had been ad- 
vancing and fighting steadily up to- the Cambrai road, and 
over a depth of seven thousand yards of ground — a record 
advance in one day — up to Graincourt. 

Tanks and cavalry co-operated in this attack, and the 
Tanks were a most powerful aid, and cruised round and 
through the village, where they put out nests of machine- 
guns. The cavalry then went on into Anneux ; but the first 
patrol had to retire because of the fierce machine-gun fire 
that swept down the streets, and it had to be attacked and 
taken again the day before yesterday. Below Graincourt 
Church the Yorkshiremen of the 62nd Division found some 
great catacombs elaborately fitted up as battalion headquar- 
ters, and supplied with electric light by the attentions of two 
German electricians, who remained for some time in our 
employ after their capture. In Anneux we captured two 
8-inch howitzers, and in the neighbourhood a battery of 
5.9's. The garrison of these two villages belonged mostly 
to the 107th Division, lately from Russia, sent up in sup- 


port of the 20th Landwehr, who are elderly fellows, and 
not great fighters; but the West Riding troops captured 
prisoners from six German divisions on their march for- 
ward. On the 2 1 st they pushed up to the north-west of 
Bourlon Wood, and saw nothing of the enemy, in spite of 
the machine-gun fire that poured down the glade. They saw 
nothing of him until they were surprised to see faces coming 
up from the ground not far away from them. They were 
the faces of German soldiers looking over a concrete trench 
artfully camouflaged with green canvas along the edge of 
the wood. A German aeroplane, one of the rare birds of 
this battle from the enemy's side, came over, flew low and 
shot at the Yorkshiremen with machine-gun fire ; and, with 
the rifle-fire ahead of them, the position was too bad to 
hold with their strength at the time, and they withdrew a 
little until yesterday, when they attacked again behind a 
line of Tanks, routing out a number of machine-guns in 
the southern end of the wood. 

This wood was held by the 214th German Division, who 
suffered heavily. Altogether the West Riding men took 
over 1000 prisoners and killed many of the enemy, so that 
they put out of action a number far in excess of their own 

I have already told how the Highlanders, south of the 
Yorkshiremen, captured the Flesquieres Ridge and fought 
very hard for Flesquieres village, which held out all the first 
day. On the 21st, after that battle, the "Jocks" pushed on to 
the village of Cantaing, where they found about 170 civil- 
ians, who received them with wild enthusiasm, so that the 
Highlanders, all muddy and wet, were kissed by old peasant 
women and young girls and by children held up to them. 
These people were weeping and laughing at the same time, 
and for a little while seemed beside themselves with joy. 
Yesterday they came trapesing down the roads, as I saw 
those of Masnieres, with their perambulators and push- 
carts, with old grandmothers and little babies, all bedraggled 
and mud splashed, soaked to the skin, in heavy rain, but 


happy and with shining eyes because of that great strange 
gift of liberty which had come to them again. 

While the main attack was happening opposite the de- 
fence lines of Cambrai a very remarkable battle was being 
fought by Irish battalions of the South and West, belong- 
ing to the 1 6th Division, along the Hindenburg line to the 
west of Bullecourt, and by English troops along a curved 
trench beyond Bullecourt itself. The great tunnel trench of 
this sector of the Hindenburg line had been attacked before 
in the summer of this year without success, and the enemy 
was very strong then in his 2000 yards of tunnel which, as 
we knew, was elaborately mined and charged, so that it 
could be blown up if ever our men broke into it. For many 
weeks past our field-guns had been cutting the wire and dis- 
tressing the enemy by putting up smoke barrages and send- 
ing over gas clouds. He was kept in constant fear of at- 
tack, but never knew when it would happen to him. He 
held it in great numbers, and 1000 men massed in the tun- 
nel and 1000 yards of support trench which he had begun 
to dig behind — an unusual strength for this length of front. 

On the morning of the battle, smoke-candles were lit all 
along the line, and to the left and right of the Irish other 
demonstrations were made. Then the Irish went away, all 
very keen and confident, and glad to fight in this country, 
and with this chance of surprise, rather than in Flanders, 
where they had had such a hard time. Some expert tun- 
nelling officers and miners were among the first to go into 
the Hindenburg tunnel trench in order to cut the leads and 
prevent the blowing up of the mines. It was a great peril 
and a frightful anxiety, on which the lives of many men 
were at stake. But luck was with the Irish that morning. 
A happy discovery made at the most fortunate moment 
showed all the workings of the mine. In the support trench 
some of the enemy fought hard, and even in the short dis- 
tance which the Irish had to go, a few hundred yards at 
most, they were caught by machine-gun fire and did not 
escape altogether lightly so; but the enemy's losses were' 


very heavy. Apart from the prisoners, who numbered 
nearly 700, 350 have been counted on the ground, which is 
now ours, and in counter-attacks by local bodies of men he 
lost many more. 

There were nine of these counter-attacks against the 
Irish — attacks by platoons and companies, and some of them 
were utterly destroyed. The assault by the English troops 
on Bovis trench north of Bullecourt by the West Yorks and 
the Northumberland Fusiliers of the 3rd Division was also 
successful and inflicted severe losses. The enemy in his 
bulletins says that on this part of the Front we were unable 
to advance beyond the third line of trenches. The Irish were 
never meant to go further at the moment than they did ; but 
this taking of the tunnel trench was a sensational exploit, 
and of good military value to us. To the enemy it is a 
heavy blow. The 240th German Division were the troops 
who suffered so much from the Irish attack, and they were 
strong fellows, although pale after their long life in the 
darkness of their tunnel where they were caught like rats. 

November 22 
After our smash through the Hindenburg lines on Tuesday 
morning, and as soon as the German Command could get 
any news as to what had happened, reinforcements were 
hurried up by omnibuses from camps near Cambrai, but 
they were so hard pressed that they actually cleared out a 
camp of cripples and convalescents at Beaurevoir, and hurled 
them into the fighting-lines. It was a brutal and stupid 
assault. The men were too ill to fight, and now are too ill 
to stand. This morning one of them, who lay about among 
the prisoners, was found to be in the last stages of con- 
sumption, and had to be taken by us to an isolation hospital. 
Among other troops and oddments of troops hurried up to 
stop the gap was at least one battalion of the First Guards 
Reserve sent down from Lens. 

There is no doubt that the enemy is now rushing up all 
available troops to make a stand round Cambrai. To be fair 


to his men — and to ours, because it was not a walk-over for 
them after the first surprise — the troops holding the woods 
and villages behind the Hindenburg line have fought hard 
and well, and have tried to beat our men back and hold 
them off by many counter-attacks. They defended them- 
selves stubbornly against our 29th Division in Lateau Wood, 
as I have already told, and at a place called Les Rues Vertes, 
in the neighbourhood of Masnieres. Marcoing was entered 
by Worcesters, Newfoundlanders, and others without great 
opposition, but there was severe righting beyond that vil- 
lage and in Neuf Wood on the left, which was attacked at 
the bayonet point and taken after heavy "scrapping," as 
our men call it, by the Guernsey Light Infantry, who were 
in action for the first time. 

A heavy counter-attack developed from the north-east of 
Masnieres at about eleven o'clock of the first morning of the 
battle. The German infantry advanced in massed forma- 
tion, shoulder to shoulder, as in the old days of 1914, and 
as I saw them at Falfemont Farm on the Somme, and they 
were mown down by our gun-fire. Another attack of the 
same kind was attempted after midday from the Marcoing 
side, but the men dropped into the trenches on their way 
and never came out again. Another attack, repeated yester- 
day, was made upon the village of Noyelles after its capture 
by English battalions, and one post held by Lancashire 
Fusiliers changed hands seven times. The village itself 
changed hands three times, and there was fierce street fight- 
ing, and the place had to be gained and regained from house 
to house and from cellar to cellar, the enemy defending 
every wall by machine-gun and rifle-fire, and sniping our 
men from the roofs and trees. The enemy was driven 
across the canal by men of the 16th Middlesex Regiment 
and the 2nd Royal Fusiliers. 

There was very lively skirmishing about Crevecceur, and 
here a little body of the Northumberland Yeomanry came 
up against some German guns in action. They were about 
to charge when they saw that there was a belt of uncut wire 


between them and the enemy's battery. It was impossible to 
lead horses against that, so they dismounted, worked round 
the wire, and captured the guns. It was cavalry also, with 
the aid of Tanks, which captured the village of Cantaing at 
six o'clock last evening, with another bag of prisoners whom 
I saw marching down the roads to-day. 

I wrote yesterday of German officers who spoke with ad- 
miration of our attack, and praised the courage of our men 
and the strategy which has led to our victory. They are 
not all like that, and some of the younger officers are rilled 
with fury, and show it by their words and gestures when 
they see such swarms of their own men marching by under 
the escort of a few mounted guards, and when they see 
our cavalry riding through villages which until two days 
ago were behind their lines. After all, it is an incredible 
blow to these men behind the Hindenburg line, who believed 
themselves impregnable and had no warning of their im- 
pending fate. The civilians with whom I talked told me 
that the German officers have been much elated lately over 
the retreat of the Italians, and boasted of marching to 
Paris in the same way. Their men are not so buoyed up. 
All they want is to get the war over and done with. "After 
each of their successes," said the Mayor of Masnieres, "they 
show a brief enthusiasm and then relapse into the despon- 
dency which is their usual mood. They believed in the sum- 
mer that the war would be over by Christmas. 'We shall 
all be home for Christmas,' they said. But they cannot give 
any reason for this faith, and the most intelligent are the 
most hopeless." 

There was heavy fighting to-day round Bourlon Wood, 
with steady artillery-fire from our guns, and our cavalry and 
Tanks and splendid infantry are rounding up more of the 
enemy in his villages and rearguard posts. Meanwhile, the 
enemy is bringing up his guns and new men, but whatever 
happens now the surprise blow has been struck, thousands 
of prisoners have been taken, and the heroic adventure of 


the Tanks has shown that an attack can be made secretly 
and suddenly, so that strategy comes back to the Western 

The Battles of Bourlon Wood 

November 25 
For two days there has been a fierce battle for possession of 
Bourlon Wood, the high forest which commands all the 
country north of and north-east of the villages of Inchy 
and Mceuvres to west of it, and for Fontaine-Notre-Dame 
and La Folie Wood to east of it. 

In all this fighting London battalions of the 56th Di- 
vision on the left, across the first and second trenches of the 
great Hindenburg line up by the Louverval-Inchy road, 
Yorkshire troops of the 62nd Division, and other English 
battalions of the 40th Division, in the centre of the direct 
attack on the forest of Bourlon, and Highlanders of the 51st 
Division on the right working eastwards of Bourlon Wood 
and up to Fontaine-Notre-Dame, which they gained and 
lost in fierce attacks and counter-attacks, have shown a most 
dauntless determination to make good the triumph of the 
first day, when they broke the German line. Some of these 
men have been fighting now for nearly a week. They have 
had no rest and no sleep, except what they snatched in odd 
half-hours lying out in the open beyond all trench-lines or in 
the ruins of the villages out of which they have routed the 
enemy. They have gone on short rations, as they are out in 
the blue far from supply-dumps, and after the first sur- 
prise on Tuesday morning, when they caught in their net of 
steel a mass of dazed and frightened men, they have had to 
force their way forward, or hold the positions they have 
gained against great numbers of counter-attacks from Ger- 
man troops hurled up to Cambrai from all available sources, 
and against small garrisons and bodies of storm troops and 


patrols and snipers, whose spirit has been rallied by their 
officers, and who have fought with really desperate courage 
to stop the gap made in their lines. 

The break through of Tuesday morning has been fol- 
lowed by a ding-dong struggle along twelve miles or more 
of open country from Pronville to the east and south of 
Masnieres, but it is a battle unlike anything we have seen 
since the early days of the war. It is open fighting again, 
away for the most part from trench systems except on the 
left, where some Royal Fusiliers (Londoners they were) 
were extending their hold on further stretches of the Hin- 
denburg line; open fighting in a wide sweep of undulating 
country, where there is grass instead of shell-pits and blasted 
earth. It was essential for all further progress to gain that 
black forest which covers 600 acres of the high ground to 
the west of Cambrai. The difficulty of capturing it was in- 
creased by the loss of Fontaine-Notre-Dame on the eastern 
side, and by the strong defence of fresh German troops 
round Mceuvres and Inchy on the west. Our cavalry had 
not been able to make a sweeping movement, though they 
had fought many gallant little actions about these fortified 
villages, and rounded up many prisoners. The enemy had 
been quick in rushing up guns. The weakness of his artil- 
lery on the first day, due partly to the wonderful counter- 
battery work of our splendid gunners, to the capture of over 
100 guns on the first two days of the battle, and to the con- 
centration of the enemy's artillery in Flanders, is no longer 
a factor in our favour. The German High Command has 
ordered up every available battery from other positions, and 
behind the German lines the roads must have been choked 
day and night by guns and limbers on the march to the 
country round Cambrai, straining every nerve of horse and 
man to get to their new sectors in time to remedy their 
disaster. They have come up now, and yesterday I saw 
some very deadly barrage-fire below Inchy and Mceuvres 
and south of Bourlon Wood as proof of their arrival. 

"They have been damn quick into getting on to the 


ground," said some of our own gunners, and they spoke 
with a queer kind of admiration, as good sportsmen, of the 
rapidity with which the German gunners had registered and 
got into action. 

So it was not against a weak enemy and no longer with 
the first gift of surprise that our men attacked Bourlon 


Wood yesterday and the day before, and carried their battle- 
line forward below Inchy and Mceuvres and made a new 
assault upon the village of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, where the 
Highlanders had fought forwards and backwards through 
the streets now burning with a fierce red glow, though many 
houses still gave cover to machine-gunners and snipers and 
German infantry. 

On Friday morning the battle opened on all sides of the 
forest of Bourlon — south, west, and east. It was an at- 
tack in which all arms worked together in the most spec- 
tacular and splendid union. Our guns opened a terrific 
drumfire, and it was the strongest demonstration so far in 
this battle of all those batteries which had been hidden be- 
fore, the sudden surprise of all those field-guns which, after 
the first advance, had galloped far forward over the cap- 
tured ground, and taken up new positions astoundingly close 
to the enemy's line of retreat, all those heavy and light 
batteries which I had seen streaming up through the day 


and night, choking the roads with their long columns, 
silhouetted against the pale dawn as they wound over the 
hillsides, surging in wild turmoil of horse and mules and 
guns and wagons in the ruined villages behind the lines, and 
getting into action a few minutes after their journey's end. 
Many of the men had fought on other battlefields in this 
year of terrible fighting. For months they had had but 
little rest and no kind of peace, and had lived in shell-fire 
until they were haggard and worn and weary. But now 
they came to these new battlefields with as much enthusiasm 
as though they were going into action for the first time, 
because of the new promise of victory, and they did not 
spare an ounce of their strength, and went to almost super- 
human exertions to get up their guns and their shells. They 
were first to start the Battle of Bourlon Wood. 

But the first to advance were the Tanks — more than two 
score of them, with single scouts ahead, followed by others 
in echelon formation. Many of them had already been 
fighting since Tuesday morning; all of them had been 
working day and night for many days before that. Stand- 
ing on the battlefield yesterday with one of them going to 
join his brothers who were round Bourlon Wood I heard 
from the young pilot the tale of his adventure in this battle, 
and all through his tale ran one refrain. It was his need 
of sleep. He spoke the word sleep as though it were some 
spell word holding all the beauty of life. For nine days 
and nights before the surprise at dawn he had been working 
to get his engine right, to get his guns right, to fix things up, 
as he said, speaking with a grim, worn look at the box of 
tricks by his side. Half an hour before he went over he 
was seen by the enemy in Havrincourt Chateau away on the 
hill in front of him by the white glare of their Verylights. 
He had tried to stop every time a light went up, but they 
saw his movement, and instantly a field-gun opened on him. 
Its shooting was marvellous, and I saw how near the shells 
had fallen to the track of that Tank, only a yard or two 
away. The young pilot was sitting outside his Tank with 


his sergeant, but presently he said, "I guess we'll get inside. 
This is getting too hot. ,, And inside, as they advanced to 
battle, the pilot and the sergeant and one other man were 
the only ones awake. All the rest were fast asleep, dead and 
drugged by sleep after their long ordeal. That seems to me 
the queerest thing I have heard in this battle, that and the 
experience of one Tank which was hit twice by direct hits. 
The first shell burst inside the Tank after passing between 
the arm and the body of the pilot, and by an amazing chance 
did not wound a man. Another shell came inside, and again 
no one was hit. Later the officer and the crew got out to 
deal with their Tank, which had become stuck between two 
banks up by Havrincourt village, when the enemy was still 
fighting there. Machine-gun bullets whipped round them 
like a swarm of wasps, but only one man was hit and only 
slightly touched. "It was a million to one chance each 
time," said the pilot, "three sets of miracles which you can't 
count on again." 

When the Tanks advanced on Bourlon Wood they were 
driven and fought by men who had been shaken and bruised 
and banged inside those narrow forts, who had been 
drenched by sweat in great heat, who needed sleep with 
a drunken craving, who were in continuous peril of death, 
but who goaded themselves with a spiritual spur in order to 
do their job well and add to the honour of the Tanks. 
So they moved steadily towards the enemy and his guns, in* 
side their queer, beast-like things, which look very sinister 
as they go forward in the grey light of dawn, as I have seen 
them. Little bodies of cavalry were riding on their flanks of 
attack, and the infantry came behind in open order — those 
Highlanders of the 51st and Yorkshiremen of the 62nd 
Divisions and other English and Welsh battalions who had 
been fighting in this open battle since Monday night. Tanks 
and infantry gained and held the sunken road south-west 
of Bourlon Wood, and a number of Tanks were seen ad- 
vancing steadily in a north-west direction from the village 
of Graincourt. Another Tank was going well 500 yards 


south of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, and by Anneux there was 
still another group, in echelon formation, advancing north- 
wards to get on the east side of the forest and drive a wedge 
between that and Fontaine-Notre-Dame. The enemy's guns 
answered the rockets which went up from the German 
troops, each light like a high wail for help, and laid down 
a heavy barrage of high explosives and shrapnel south of 
the forest and all along the line of our attack. 

November 26 
After heavy counter-attacks, following the fighting round 
Bourlon Wood, which I described in my last message, the 
enemy succeeded in entering Bourlon village again yester- 
day morning, and seems to have held his ground there up 
to the present hour. This morning the battle was renewed, 
and our troops of the 40th Division — Royal Welsh Fusi- 
liers, the Welsh Regiment, South Wales Borderers, Lanca- 
shire, Surrey, and Suffolk men, with Highland Light In- 
fantry and Argyll and Sutherlands — are heavily engaged 
not only on the outskirts of Bourlon village, but also in the 
neighbourhood of Fontaine-Notre-Dame, east of the for- 
est, which, as I have previously told, is partially destroyed 
by fire, after having changed hands more than once. 

The enemy has brought up strong reinforcements, and is 
now well provided with artillery, which has been sent up 
with great rapidity from other sections of his front, and 
when I was in the neighbourhood of Havrincourt this morn- 
ing there was a violent bombardment in progress on both 
sides. There is no doubt in my mind that the German 
command will make powerful attempts to regain Bourlon 
Wood and the country about it in order to relieve the com- 
mand we now have over his Cambrai line, which is one of 
his main lines of supply, so that if we make the railway 
untenable he is very seriously menaced in his communica- 
tions. One effect of the battle is already evident further 
north, where his troops have been compelled to abandon 
small parts of their trench system on both sides of Bulle- 


court after the capture of the Hindenburg tunnel trench by 
the Irish brigades and trenches behind Bullecourt by the 
West Yorks and Northumberland Fusiliers of the 3rd Di- 

The capture of Bourlon Wood and the resistance by our 
troops against formidable counter-attacks all through Fri- 
day and Saturday was aided by the fine gallantry of the 
cavalry — some of our Hussars — who fought dismounted in 
co-operation with infantry and Tanks. It was due to them 
that the north-east corner of the wood was held when seri- 
ously menaced by repeated attack, and if this had been lost 
the whole of the wood might have been in jeopardy. After 
the break through on the first morning of the battle the 
cavalry have had a hard time without much luck. Their 
own hopes of a big drive were spoilt by several unfortunate 
incidents. One of these incidents was the defence of Fles- 
quieres village by a garrison of Germans who put up a 
long struggle before yielding to our pressure, and so held 
a wedge in our line which made it dangerous for cavalry to 
sweep round on either side. Another unlucky thing was 
the breaking of the bridge over the canal at Masnieres by 
the weight of a Tank, which was first to cross. One squad- 
ron of Canadian cavalry — the Fort Garry Horse — succeeded 
in repairing the broken bridge over the canal by the aid of 
the civilians from Masnieres, who came out to meet them, 
and at about half -past three crossed under machine-gun and 
rifle-fire from the banks with only half a dozen casual- 
ties. They only numbered 123 men, and orders had been 
sent after them to retire, as it was so late in the day, but 
their colonel lamed his horse in a sunken road, and the order 
did not reach the squadron commander in time. So they 
rode on, and had some remarkable adventures. They 
moved north, and made their way through the gap in the 
wire cut by the troopers, where they were again under rifle- 
fire and machine-gun fire which wounded the captain and 
two men. The command was carried on by a young lieu- 
tenant, who rode with his men until they reached a camou- 


flaged road south-east of the village of Rumilly, where they 
went through in sections under the fire of the enemy hidden 
on the banks. Here they came up against a battery of field- 
guns, one of which fired point-blank at them. They charged 
the battery, putting the guns out of action and killing some 
of the gunners. Those who were not destroyed surrendered, 
and the prisoners were left to be sent back by the supports. 

The squadron then dealt with the German infantry in the 
neighbourhood, some of whom fled, while some were killed 
or surrendered. All this operation was done at a gallop, 
under fire from flanking blockhouses. The squadron then 
slowed down to walk, and took up a position in a sunken 
road one kilometre east of Rumilly. Darkness crept down 
upon them, and gradually they were surrounded by German 
infantry with machine-guns, so that they were in great dan- 
ger of capture or destruction. Only five of their horses re- 
mained unhit, and the lieutenant in command decided that 
they must endeavour to cut their way through and get back. 
The horses were stampeded in the direction of the enemy in 
order to draw the machine-gun fire, and while these rider- 
less horses galloped wildly out of one end of Sunken Road 
the officer and his surviving troopers escaped from the 
other end. On the way back they encountered four bodies 
of the enemy, whom they attacked and routed. 

On one occasion their escape was due to the cunning of 
another young lieutenant who spoke German and held con- 
versation with the enemy in the darkness, deceiving them 
as to the identity of his force until they were able to take 
the German troops by surprise and hack a way through. 
This lieutenant was hit through the face by a bullet, and 
when he arrived back in Masnieres with his men in advance 
of the rear-guard he was only able to make his report before 
falling in a state of collapse. 

It was another small body of cavalry — the 7th Dragoon 
Guards — that took the village of Noyelles. After skirting 
round it under rifle- and machine-gun fire they put their 
horses to the gallop and rode straight through the main 


street at three o'clock in the afternoon. In the village they 
captured twenty-five prisoners, ten of whom were hiding in 
cellars, and handed them to the infantry who followed. 
Afterwards they went on through a little copse south of La 
Folie Wood, where they killed some of the enemy and scat- 
tered some machine-gunners. Further along they met seven 
German officers walking about in the wood as though there 
was no war on, and took them prisoners, though they had 
to release some of them later as they could not be bothered 
with them. Later they came across six ammunition-wagons 
in La Folie Wood, and destroyed them. In the heart of 
the wood was a German divisional headquarters, and one of 
our cavalry officers approached the cottage stealthily and 
fired his revolver through the window. The troops then 
made their way back, and after riding through another party 
of German soldiers came into Noyelles again. On the fol- 
lowing day another squadron of the 4th Dragoon Guards 
took the village of Cantaing at the gallop, one party direct 
and two others riding round on each flank. They captured 
fifty prisoners in the streets, and patrols went up to 
Fontaine-Notre-Dame, but could not get in as it was then 
heavily defended. Other squadrons, including the 15th 
Hussars, were riding out in the open country, coming up 
against machine-gun fire and rifle-fire, capturing small 
bodies of prisoners and rendering great aid to the infantry 
before they were used as a dismounted force in the attack 
on Bourlon Wood and in the resistance of counter-attacks. 

November 25 
It was early in the morning that I went out again over the 
newly captured ground to see this battle. Every yard of it 
across the Hindenburg lines — those deep, wide trenches now 
empty of all life — was strewn with evidences of the ene- 
my's panic-stricken flight and capture in the beginning of 
the battle. 

The way up to Havrincourt village, on the ridge to the 
west of Flesquieres — first in the dip by an old stone cross 


five centuries old, dedicated to St. Hubert, patron saint of 
huntsmen before our Tanks went a-hunting on a fine No- 
vember morning, and then up the slope where the York- 
shires had to fight their way to the strong high wall of red 
brick surrounding the chateau grounds — was littered with 
things the enemy had left behind him — his field-grey over- 
coats, his shrapnel helmets, innumerable pairs of boots, his 
goatskin pouches, his rifles, bayonets, bandoliers, tunics, 
and gas-masks. It was as though large numbers of men 
had thrown everything away from them in moments of 
cold terror and had fled naked from their fear. In their 
dug-outs were all the little comforts of life which men 
gather to make life endurable in such dark holes, with 
wooden chairs and tables from French houses, and mirrors 
and water-jugs and other furniture. Those who had been 
the masters of these houses had gone away, and others had 
entered into possession — our own men, the "moppers up," 
who now, while the battle was flaming over the countryside 
not many thousands of yards away, were settling down 
and searching for souvenirs in these new quarters. 

I followed the track of the Tanks, and went through 
wide gaps they had made in the barbed wire — acres of 
barbed wire — and went along the route of the Scottish 
when they surged after the Tanks on that great morning 
of surprise. Some of them had left their kilts behind, 
caught on barbed wire, and with no time to mind rents in 
the tartan of the Seaforths, they had gone on in their steel 
hats and very little else. And all this way to the battle 
was littered with letters in German and English, as though 
there had been a paper-chase instead of the hunting of men. 
They were the intimate letters which men wear close to their 
hearts until war snatches them away and tosses them to 
the breeze. "Mein lieber bruder," I read, as I picked up 
one of them, and "My darling hubby," began a letter to a 
London boy, who was now away by Bourlon Wood. 

I went out into open country, and outstretched before me 
was the whole panorama of this battle. I went up to the 


edge of it, as close as one could go without getting into 
the furnace fires, and all around me was the swirl and tur- 
moil of the battlefield. Everywhere Tanks were crawling 
over the ground, some of them moving forward into action, 
some of them out of action, mortally wounded, some of 
them like battle-cruisers of the land, going forward in 
reconnaissance. Across the field guns were moving up, 
and drivers of gun-limbers were urging their horses for- 
ward over the muddy slopes with new supplies of ammuni- 
tion for the forward batteries. Small bodies of cavalry 
rode about and put their horses to the gallop when black 
shrapnel burst overhead with a high snarling menace. 
Gunner officers and observers were out in the open watch- 
ing the enemy's fire, and their own signallers were flag- 
wagging as though in Battersea Park on a Saturday morn- 
ing in the old days of peace, though the hostile shell-fire 
was creeping near them and odd shells were scattered over 
the countryside searching for the likes of them, as they 
would say. It was a fantastic and unimaginable scene, 
and the battlefield conversation would be unbelievable if I 
were to put down all the remarks I heard from officers and 
men about me on the edge of the battle and within the zone 
of fire. 

Less than 2000 yards away from us was a town on fire. 
It was Graincourt, and the enemy was "knocking hell out 
of it" in revenge for its capture. It had been my inten- 
tion to go there, but I stopped short of it, and was glad I 
had gone no farther. Shell after shell burst among its 
roofs and walls without ceasing for several hours. Red 
brick cottages went up in clouds of rosy smoke with a flame 
in the heart of it. The enemy's shells burst in Graincourt 
with many colours — green and purple and orange and rose 
pink — so that it was a wonderful poem in colour, but as 
tragic as the death that was there. On the slope of the 
ground above this village, not so far away that at any mo- 
ment the slope itself might not be swept with high ex- 
plosives, three English soldiers watched the battle while 


they sat at their ease on a garden-seat taken from a neigh- 
bouring park. Nearby, two officers, sitting on an upturned 
tub and a petrol tin, were munching sandwiches and watch- 
ing the progress of our attack on Bourlon Wood, which 
stood up in front of us black and big, with the sun on its 
southern edge, while our men were fighting inside with the 
Tanks, and where the enemy was flinging down a heavy 

Officers came galloping up and leaned down over their 
saddles and asked, "Have you got any news how things are 
going; how about Bourlon village and Mceuvres and 

"I don't like those five point nines," said a little Tank offi- 
cer who was standing by the side of his monster. He 
pointed to a road upon which large numbers of shells were 
bursting, and said, "That's where I have got to go ; I think 
I'll have lunch first." He began to munch some bread and 
cheese, and with only half an eye on the battle told me how 
he had got a bottle of whisky out of a Divisional Head- 
quarters in return for a ride in his Tank to an excellent 
major, and how jolly glad he was of the prize, because "you 
couldn't get a drink for love or money on this side of the 

"Do you know where my battalion is?" asked a lonely 
Guards' officer, coming up. He had just come back from 
leave, and was hunting for his men somewhere on the 
south side of Bourlon Wood. Overhead come the flying 
men, perilously low, as usual. They went fluttering over 
the German lines, and we were glad when they flew a lit- 
tle further off as the enemy flung back shrapnel at them 
which might hit us if it didn't hit them. A column of cav- 
alry came down a sunken road and then out on to the sky- 
line above one of the Tanks. "They will be drawing fire 
on me next," said the Tank pilot, and with that desire of 
life which is strong in man, everybody hoped he was in a 
safer place than the other fellow. At 2.30, or a little later, 
the enemy began to fire intensely along the whole line of our 


front below Moeuvres and Inchy. "Another counter-at- 
tack, curse them," said an officer; "that is about the sev- 
enth to-day." The German gunners were putting down 
their barrage line dead straight for miles, and revealed an 
abominable new strength in artillery. The barrage lines 
swept forward, with white smoke clouds rising after the 
flash of bursting shells from field-guns and big, black, sin- 
ister clouds with a vomit of earth in them where the Ger- 
man heavies were crashing, but it was not a counter-at- 
tack. It was a barrage laid down to kill our own attack on 
the two villages to the west of Bourlon Wood which was 
very quiet and still because no gunners were shooting into 
it while men were fighting at close quarters within those 
glades. Light signals went up from the enemy's lines. 
Our infantry was advancing again. Though I could not 
see, I am sure the moment of the new attack came when 
our batteries, which had not been shooting very hard for 
some time, and with only irregular rounds from isolated 
guns, suddenly burst out into a wild roar of drum-fire. All 
our field-batteries were revealed by their flashes for miles 
along the Front, and there were many of them, and they 
were very close to the enemy. I stood in the centre of their 
arc, with the heavier guns behind me, and the air seemed 
to rock and sway with the rhythm of their fire. Below the 
slopes the grass was alive with little rushlights, and as 
afternoon became darkened, and dusk crept over the battle- 
fields, and the shadows lengthened and deepened round 
Bourlon Wood, these gun-flashes became more vivid. 

There were five heavy counter-attacks on our line yes- 
terday afternoon, and by four o'clock the enemy was still 
in Bourlon village, and with a last strong and desperate 
effort succeeded in driving us partly back in the forest 
again off the high ground at the northern end. It was the 
only success he had had in the day, though he had held our 
London men of the 56th Division back from ground round 
Inchy and half-way through Mceuvres village, to which he 
had been driven. 


He could not hold the high ground in Bourlon Wood. 
As the sun was setting on this day of battle, with a glori- 
ous bar of shining gold below the clouds, a final attack was 
made by our men, infantry and cavalry working together, 
and the enemy was again routed from the greater part of 
the wood, and our troops entered the village of Bourlon 
itself, fought through streets hotly defended by rifle and 
machine-gun fire and mopped up most of the main de- 
fences, although odd groups of men are still fighting there. 

When I went away yesterday evening there was still 
heavy gun-fire and, above, a great glory in the sky where 
wild mountainous clouds were all on fire in the sunset, and 
over Graincourt, still in a fury of shell-fire, a quiet stretch 
of the heavens which had been all blue until suddenly it was 
filled with little flame feathers as wisps of cloud were 
caught by the splendour of the day's last light. After that 
it was very dark, and as I went back through the woods 
the only light was where the white rays of the moon fil- 
tered through the branches and all the tree-trunks were 
black and sharp against the glare of bursting shells, with 
darkness in between them. Behind the lines camp-fires 
were being lighted in the hiding-places of the Tanks. 

On the left our troops advanced towards Inchy at about 
half -past eight in the morning, and for a time were held 
up by the fierce machine-gun fire which swept down on their 
left from the east side of the Inchy road, although on the 
right they made good their advance without serious trouble. 

A little patrol of Londoners crept out ahead of the main 
body and worked their way into a sap on the west side on 
the way to Pronville to feel the enemy's strength. They 
were fired at hotly by rifle volleys, and came back with their 
report. While this was happening our airmen, who were 
all over the battleground, flying very low and behaving 
with amazing and light-hearted audacity, reported that two 
battalions of the enemy's troops were advancing south- 
wards on Mceuvres for a counter-attack. Our guns di- 
rected their fire on these columns, and so shattered them 


that they do not seem to have come further, although it is 
probable that their survivors joined later attacks. Later in 
the morning the Germans were seen retiring south-east of 
Fontaine-Notre-Dame by La Folie Wood, and also by other 
observers were seen moving back on to Pronville, on the 
extreme left of our attack. They had abandoned five field- 
guns with plenty of their own ammunition. 

After midday our troops were moving on Quarry Wood, 
west of the forest of Bourlon, and the Yorkshires of the 
62nd Division had captured the southern side of the for- 
est. Four Tanks went ahead of the infantry and entered 
the forest, crashing down its under-growth and small trees, 
and sweeping German machine-gun emplacements with 
Tank guns. With the North-country troops following 
them they took the crucifix in the wood, and went across a 
sunken road in which the enemy had been in strength. 
Here the enemy fought with great valour, and small par- 
ties of Germans put up a most desperate resistance. 

Meanwhile the Scottish on the west side of the forest 
were going ahead above the old quarry in the outer glades, 
with the village of Fontaine on their right and many ma- 
chine-guns there firing at them. Tanks forced their way 
into the village in spite of fires, and cleared out some of the 
enemy's snipers, who used their rifles from windows and 
loopholes in the walls. 

Early in the afternoon news came back that our line ran 
half-way through Bourlon Wood down to the centre of La 
Folie Wood on the right, going across the Cambrai road 
south of Fontaine. In the wood itself there was close 
fighting all day long, and gun-fire ceased in this deep belt 
of trees because the infantry on both sides were within a 
few yards of each other, fighting with rifles and machine- 
guns from glade to glade and across barricades of tree- 
trunks, while Tanks climbed over fallen logs, crashed 
through undergrowth and trampled down stockades and 
emplacements. Before dusk the enemy made a desperate 
attempt to beat us back by violent counter-attacks from La 


Folie Wood and over the ridge north-east of Fontaine- 
Notre-Dame. These were beaten off, and more Tanks 
moved up to make a final attack on the forest. The enemy 
had been driven back to the north-east corner, which was 
his last stand among the trees, although he was still defend- 
ing the village of Bourlon on the edge of the wood, which 
we did not gain until last night, and where in the village 
there are still snipers and small groups of Germans in cel- 
lars and houses. 

Tanks advancing to the north-east corner of the wood 
were held up by strong bodies of riflemen and grenadiers, 
who swarmed round them and tried to put them out of ac- 
tion. It was then that one of our flying-men went up and 
did a most astounding feat, though it was not more won- 
derful than many other exploits performed by our aviators, 
whom I saw flying so low that they seemed as though they 
would trim one's hair with their planes. He saw those 
German troops swarming round the Tanks and pounced on 
them, flying like a bat about them and strafing them with 
his Lewis gun. They fled from the roar of his engine and 
the beating of his wings and the bullets which came about 
them like raindrops, and many who could not escape lay 
dead and wounded in the undergrowth. The Tanks went 
on and gained nearly all the wood with the help of the in- 

So on Friday night the situation seemed all in our fa- 
vour. We had gained almost the entire forest of Bourlon, 
but the enemy still held the village on its north-west edge, 
and had maintained his line precariously outside Inchy and 
Mceuvres. All through the night there was heavy gun- 
fire from the enemy batteries, and yesterday the battle was 
resumed with further attacks on Bourlon and repeated 
counter-attacks from the enemy throughout the morning 
and afternoon. By yesterday evening we had cleared the 
last Germans out of the forest, taken the village of Bourlon, 
forced the enemy half-way out of Mceuvres and repulsed 
all his counter-attacks with most bloody losses. It was a 


day of great drama, and many hours of it were filled with 
strange and terrible interest because seldom, if ever before, 
have we seen so thrilling a picture of open warfare or such 
seething movement of men in fields of war. 

November 27 
There is still hard, nagging fighting in and about Bour- 
lon Wood and village, westwards by Mceuvres, and east- 
wards around the half-burnt village of Fontaine-Notre- 


The enemy continues to bring up reinforcements, and is 
massing them near Cambrai, although he can no longer de- 
train them there, as the station is under the fire of our guns, 
and the old town itself has been evacuated by civilians and 
all but fighting troops, and cleared of all material as hur- 
riedly as possible. Some very sharp orders must have ar- 
rived from the German High Command to the Divisional 
Generals and regimental commanders holding the Cambrai 
area, for our capture of Bourlon forest menaces one of 
their most important lines of communications, apart from 
its threat to Cambrai, and desperate efforts are being made 
by the Third Guards' Division, and other new troops in 
this line, to wrest back the high ground on which that dark 
wood stands, famous through centuries of warfare as a 
strategical point. Last night at about ten o'clock another 
counter-attack was delivered against our lines in the for- 
est, but it does not seem to have broken through our for- 
ward defences. From our side raids were made into the 
village of Bourlon on the north-west side of the wood, 
part of the object being to rescue some companies of East 
Surreys of the 40th Division who had been cut off by pre- 
vious counter-attacks, and were holding out among ruined 
houses, surrounded by the enemy and without food or sup- 
plies. In the darkness of a bitter night, with cruel wind 
blowing and rain turning to sleet and snow, our men of 
the 62nd Division worked forward into Bourlon village 
and fought behind the cover of broken walls and through 


bombarded houses, under bursts of machine-gun and rifle 
fire. I do not know yet any further details of this fight- 
ing, except that some of the East Surreys were rescued 
and brought back. 

It is believed that other men of ours belonging to the 
Highland Light Infantry of the 40th Division remain in 
the village, holding out to the last gasp until they may be 
relieved in the same way by comrades who will fight hard 
to get them. Early this morning, on the right of the for- 
est of Bourlon, where Fontaine-Notre-Dame is smoulder- 
ing out into white ash and black ruin, except where some 
of its houses have been untouched by fire, one of our Bri- 
gades of Guards, including the Irish, Grenadier, Cold- 
stream, and Scots Guards, moved forward to harry the 
German garrison, who had come back in strength, with 
many machine-guns, after our withdrawal last Wednes- 
day. Our men have it seems, forced their way into a part 
of the village, in spite of the dreadful sweep of machine- 
gun fire from neighbouring houses and from La Folie 
Wood to the south-east. 

After a spell of mild weather, which favoured us, in 
spite of rainy nights, at the beginning of this battle near 
Cambrai, it turned bitterly cold yesterday, and our men and 
horses had to suffer exposure in the savage and cutting 
wind on that wide stretch of open country, where there is 
no shelter for man or beast. Yesterday it was a real physi- 
cal agony to endure that wind, which came over the bleak 
plains like the lash of a whip, and our gunners and mule 
drivers, who had been sitting in their saddles for hours, 
had a frozen, look as they kept their steel helmets slanted 
to the gale, while their poor wet beasts trudged forward 
with their heads bent. The whole of our Army has moved 
beyond even the far view of ordinary comfort and stand- 
ing habitations. They have behind them first the whole 
stretch of the Somme battlefields, where is no wood except 
a dead wood of naked trunks like gallows-trees, and no 
village except a rubbish-heap and a graveyard and a sign- 


board, which says "Pozieres" or "Combles" or "Guille- 
mont," and where every road-track is bordered by little 
white crosses where sleep the heroes of the Somme in this 
wild waste of desolation, haunted by hidden horrors. Then 
they have behind them the country of the German retreat, 
when in the spring of this year the enemy stole away from 
Bapaume and Peronne, and from scores of villages beyond, 
after putting an explosive charge into every house and 
church and barn and pigsty and stable and chateau and fac- 
tory and mill and dog-kennel and summer-house, so that 
nothing was left but brickdust and ashes and broken tim- 
bers and twisted iron and gateways which lead into man- 
sions no longer there, and doorways which open into houses 
all tumbled down, and roofs which have fallen, sometimes 
with all their tiles in place, to the level of the earth, and 
here and there a crucifix at the crossways where the devil 
has made a merry hell. And now our fighting troops are 
beyond the Hindenburg line and the villages of Ribecourt 
and Marcoing and Graincourt and Flesquieres and others, 
which are in ruin like all those ruins behind — twelve and 
fifteen miles behind. So there are no estaminets behind 
the lines of this fighting front into which our men can go 
for an hours' "fug," for a sing-song for an hour or two on 
their way to the Front, and no whole billets in which they 
can rest when they are relieved in the lines ; and they seem 
like men in the middle of a great desert, enormously far 
from the civilized world, enormously lonely. They are 
lonely except for their own comradeship and their own 
playfulness and the help of padres and other friendly souls 
of the Church Army and the Y.M.C.A., who put up tents 
and huts in this wilderness and arrange a little entertain- 
ment of body and soul for men who otherwise would be 
parched for such things. So on a wall ploughed through 
with a monstrous shell-hole one sees "This way to the 
cinema," and on a board highly decorated in colours in the 
middle of a village which has fallen like a pack of cards 
one sees the friendly invitation, "Come to-night. The Bow 


Bells variety entertainment now on. The greatest show 
in the battlefields," or words to that effect. This is the 
background of our battle in Bourlon Wood, and unless 
you can see that in the mind's eye you cannot picture the 
life of those men of ours who are fighting out there where 
Fontaine-Notre-Dame is smouldering in a girdle of ma- 
chine-gun fire, and where the forest of Bourlon stands high 
and black on the ridge above Cambrai, and where the ene- 
my's barrage draws a line of high explosive below Mceuvres 
and Inchy to the top of La Folie Wood. 

November 28 
This morning it was strangely quiet on the battle-front 
round Bourlon Wood. Hardly a gun of ours was firing 
when I went up by Havrincourt, and the enemy's artillery 
was almost silent. No noise of battle came through the 
heavy mist lying low over that black forest on the hill, and 
shrouding the little ruined town of Fontaine-Notre-Dame 
on its right flank. It was a sullen kind of peace after a day 
of most fierce fighting, as though both sides were taking 
a breathing space. 

If one could look into Fontaine-Notre-Dame close 
enough to see the wreckage that lies there after the battle 
it would be a tragic sight. But I think no man may look 
into it now and live after his view, neither an English sol- 
dier nor a German soldier, because the little narrow streets 
which go between its burnt and broken houses are swept by 
machine-gun bullets from our machine-guns in the south 
and from the enemy's in the north, and no human being 
could stay alive there for a second after showing himself 
in the village. Once there was a fountain of pure water 
there, dedicated to Our Lady of Compassion, and French 
peasant women came there to touch the foreheads of their 
children with a few drops of it from their finger-tips, be- 
lieving in its healing virtues. Yesterday no Lady of Com- 
passion was there to help our poor suffering men. There 
was no compassion of any kind. Men fought in the streets 


and in the broken houses and behind the walls and round 
about the ruins of the little church of Notre-Dame. To- 
day there are only dead bodies among the ruins and the 
patter of machine-gun bullets. 

I have already given an outline of this battle yesterday, 
and there is not much to add to its essential facts, though 
there are some more details. Our men fought with great 
heroism, and the Germans of the 46th Regiment, with the 
9th Grenadiers of the Third German Guards on their right, 
fought also with a most stubborn courage, defending them- 
selves and coming back in counter-attacks fiercely and hard. 
They were some of our own battalions of Guards who at- 
tacked Fontaine-Notre-Dame, and on the left were York- 
shire battalions of the 62nd Division who advanced upon 
Bourlon village at the north-western end of Bourlon Wood. 

Before the attack our line ran all round Bourlon Wood, 
dropping on the left towards Tadpole Copse, and on the 
right to the south of Fontaine, and away down below La 
Folie Wood. A successful advance would have swung up 
the whole line to include Bourlon village, and then struck 
south-east above the village of Fontaine. A glance at the 
map will show that the attack on Fontaine would be made 
from the south, and from Bourlon Wood on the west, and 
that was the disposition of our troops when they advanced. 
Before the battle our artillery laid down a heavy barrage 
of high explosives and shrapnel in advance of the infantry, 
and concentrated a violent fire on the enemy's rear positions 
and strong points, and it was behind these lines of shell-fire 
that our troops went forward. They were assisted by a 
number of Tanks, both in the attack on Fontaine-Notre- 
Dame and on the left on Bourlon village. 

Let me deal with the left first, as I have heard the facts 
this morning from Yorkshiremen of the 62nd Division who 
have just come back from it. 

The Tanks went before them, slowly but very steadily 
and successfully over broken ground, breaking down tree- 
stumps and undergrowth, and firing rapidly with their guns, 


so that as they got forward groups of Germans were routed 
out from their hiding-places and surrendered if they were 
not killed by the sweep of fire. The line of the Tanks and 
of the following infantry was in an easterly curve on the 
western side of Bourlon village, striking at the heart of it. 
On the extreme left, invisible at any distance, were six Ger- 
man machine-guns, and they raked our troops with a most 
harassing enfilade fire, so that they could not make much 
headway. Their right battalions were screened from this, 
and were able to work up on the eastern edge of the vil- 
lage as far as the railway to the north of it, fighting all the 
way against groups of German Guards with machine-guns 
and rifles, so that there were many hand-to-hand encoun- 
ters and a most bitter struggle. It was then, as I wrote 
yesterday, that they rescued the officers and men of the 
East Surreys, who had been isolated in the village and had 
been holding out with great gallantry until help reached 

Many prisoners of the German Grenadiers were taken, 
and I saw a large batch of them to-day as they came march- 
ing down under escort and stood staring through the barbed 
wire of their enclosure. They were a powerful body of 
men, and put up a big hard fight. So the situation remains 
to-day, as far as I know, in the neighbourhood of Bourlon 

The attack on Fontaine-Notre-Dame attained its object 
in the first stage of the attack, but not without great diffi- 
culty, putting the Guards to a high test of discipline and 
courage, in which they lived nobly up to their great tradi- 

In spite of our heavy gun-fire the German machine-guns 
had not been destroyed, and that weapon showed once more 
the powerful influence it has in defending a position of 
this kind. During the past two or three days the enemy 
has sneaked a large number of machine-guns into the vil- 
lage, hiding them in the ruins and holes, and he had batches 
of picked snipers behind the walls, and on the broken roofs, 


and between the timbers of the half-burnt houses. From 
La Folie Wood, on the right flank of the Guards, came 
blasts of this fire, and from Fontaine-Notre-Dame swept 
a stream of bullets. There was bloody hand-to-hand fight- 
ing with bayonet and rifle and club, but 500 of the enemy 
were taken prisoner, and came down safely behind our lines, 
as I saw them this morning, pale and haggard after this 
battle, but still strong and grim-looking men. Among them 
was a regimental commanding officer, a man equal in rank 
to one of our brigadiers, who is now very sick at heart be- 
cause he had only looked into Fontaine to establish com- 
munications and give orders for defence when he was 
caught by our attack. He slept this morning under a lit- 
tle tarpaulin shelter, with two of his own men waiting out- 
side as orderlies, and in another enclosure near to him 300 
or more of his regiment, who had become prisoners of the 
Guards, and were luckier than their comrades who lie dead 
in the streets of Fontaine-Notre-Dame. 

It was a hard position to attack in such conditions, but 
the Guards were never stopped, and they went forward 
across the open ground, keeping marvellous order, and go- 
ing forward with splendid discipline behind a squadron of 
Tanks. The German machine-gunners held their fire until 
the Irish Guards had made 300 yards, and then opened on 
them. But these tall Irish lads took the village at a rush, 
and got in among the enemy. At the same time Cold- 
streamers swept on either side of the sand-pit opposite 
them ; the Grenadiers made their way into the edge of the 
village, and the Scots worked round on the right. To- 
gether they fought their way into the streets, and house by 
house, wall by wall, ruin by ruin, routed out the German 
garrison and killed their machine-gun menace, and took 
possession of Fontaine-Notre-Dame. 

So far all was well in our attack, and the Guards had won 
a brilliant little victory after severe fighting. Later in the 
morning the enemy brought up powerful reserves, and de- 
livered a very strong counter-attack, preceded by intense 


fire. The Guards could not remain in the village as a 
target for all this fire, and had not had time to organize 
their defences strongly enough to hold the place without 
heavy losses. It was, therefore, decided to withdraw their 
line a little, and they fell back to the edge of the village, 
keeping the streets of Fontaine under the fire of their 
machine-guns, so that no living German may show himself 
there. For the moment, therefore, Fontaine-Notre-Dame 
seems to be a No Man's Land and one of those sinister spots 
where there is no life, but only the signs of death. 

November 29 
After the heavy fighting round Bourlon Wood, the battle- 
front to-day was astoundingly quiet. During the night the 
enemy shelled our positions in and about the forest and 
some of our recently captured villages, like Graincourt and 
Anneux, but this morning, when I went up beyond our old 
line at Hermies into the open country on the left of the 
Canal du Nord and the Grand Ravin the guns were quiet 
on both sides, and only a few shells passed on either side 
until, later in the morning, the enemy put a barrage down 
for a time south of Bourlon Wood. All this is so different 
from the Flanders Front, where one cannot go a step be- 
yond Ypres or even so far without hearing the abominable 
noise of 5.9's or seeing a shell burst uncomfortably near, 
that there is a very curious sense of fantasy in walking 
about the battlefields within full view of the enemy's posi- 
tions and without any sinister emotion. There is tussocky 
grass beneath one's feet, and only a few shell-holes here and 
there to remind one that the war is close. The German 
trenches which are now behind our own front, are as neat 
as when they were first dug and organized, and not flung 
into wild shapelessness by storms of shell-fire like those 
of the Somme and Flanders. Villages like Ribecourt and 
Masnieres still have roofs above their walls, and the woods 
of Bourlon and Havrincourt Park and La Folie have not 
been slashed to death by high explosives, but in this winter 


of war have all their branches interlaced like Gothic tracery, 
so that they are beautiful in sunlight or storm. 

The sunlight was upon the forest of Bourlon to-day, and 
above that great dark mass of trees rising over the un- 
dulating ground to the highest knoll, for which the enemy 
has fought in a series of most desperate counter-attacks, 
was a long, low line of blue sky wonderfully clear for an 
autumn day, so that one had far visibility, and on the right 
the towers and spires of Cambrai rose clear and fine below 
the clouds. It was difficult to believe that the village of 
Bourlon was still in the enemy's hands after the desperate 
fighting in and out. The trees of the forest straggle out to 
it, and before these battles it was enclosed and hidden in the 
glades. But here — and it is only here — the concentration 
of our shell-fire has crashed into that little woodland and 
lopped off the branches and torn some of the trunks to tat- 
ters, so that they begin to have the gallows-tree look of other 
woods of war. A few low, dark masses among the trunks 
show where the cottages of Bourlon village stood, and 
where two days ago Yorkshiremen, following some Tanks, 
went into a most bloody fight, and struggled to gain and 
hold these ruins against the nests of machine-gunners and 
swarms of riflemen. This morning it was all quiet there, 
and there was no sign of strife about it. All the activity 
of war seemed to be in the sky rather than on the earth, and 
owing to the wonderful visibility of the morning hours 
many of our aeroplanes were up, flying about the sky in 
fighting formations, crossing the German lines on recon- 
naissance, and engaging hostile planes who were trying to 
use the light of day to see any movement of troops behind 
our lines. 

Caught napping on the first day of the battle, the Ger- 
man air service has tried on the later days to get back some 
kind of power on this front, and this morning some of their 
best flyers were about, having no doubt been drafted down 
from other parts of the Front. I feel sure that it will have 
been a great day of battle in the air when the records come 


in, for there was continual machine-gun fire overhead and 
unseen combats in the clouds. The most sensational thing 
I saw was the exploit of a German airman, a cool and 
audacious fellow, who slipped through our fighting forma- 
tions when they had gone into other sky spaces, and made 
straight as an arrow for one of our kite balloons or "sau- 
sages." I had passed that Rupert of ours and its home 
behind our lines, and had watched it swaying in the wind 
in the blue stretch of sky overlooking the enemy's line. 
Then I had gone beyond it and was looking at the towers 
of Cambrai, when I saw a single aeroplane drop out of a 
cloud and come very straight and low towards us. There 
had been a lot of anti-aircraft gunning before, and the sky 
was full of black puffs of German shrapnel, but now our 
Archies began to fire rapidly and a group of our soldiers 
standing close to me raised their rifles like men when a 
covey of partridges has been put up, and they took pot- 
shots at this low-flying bird, which passed straight over our 
heads. It flew in a bee-line for our balloon, which suddenly 
began to haul down. It was too late to get safe to earth. 
The German aeroplane poised and stooped to it. A second 
later the balloon broke into red flame, became a torch of 
fire, and fell like a rocket, with a long blazing tail, terribly 
beautiful in its descent. For that second those of us who 
were watching held our breath, thinking of the two ob- 
servers who had been in the basket up there. But before 
the second had passed something fell below the flaming 
trail, something small and black, and then above it some- 
thing else, like a white wisp of cloud, appeared above it, 
spreading out. One man had escaped in his parachute. 
Less than another second passed, and then another black 
object fell, and the white cloud opened above him, and 
together, one slightly higher than the other, these two men 
floated earthwards, dangerously near the long tail of flame 
which had been their balloon. A little nearer, and they 
would have been caught in its downward rush of fire, but 
I saw them swaying and falling very gently, like puffballs, 


until they touched the earth. The German airman, after 
his straight flight and shot, whisked round and fled into the 
nearest cloud, chased by a flight of ours who had come round 
the sky at full speed, when they saw the burning of the 
balloon. It was a bold adventure of the German pilot — 
a slight set-off for many exploits of the same kind done 
by our flying men during recent days. 

For two days now the infantry on both sides have made 
no further attack or counter-attack. Whatever may hap- 
pen next the balance of success is ours on this ground, 
where our troops and Tanks went far through the Hinden- 
burg line, captured well over 10,000 prisoners, and now 
dominate the enemy's line of communications through 


The German Counter-Thrust 

November 30 
The enemy this morning has made a determined effort to 
drive us back from our newly captured positions, and at 
about 7.30, after a very violent bombardment, with the use 
of many gas shells, delivered a heavy attack with massed 
storm troops against our lines round Bourlon Wood. Going 
up towards the Front before knowing that this new battle 
was impending, I saw the enemy's fierce bombardment of 
our lines and other signs of intense conflict. Places where 
I have been during the past ten days watching this open 
warfare around Bourlon Wood without seeing much hostile 
shelling except on the immediate line of attack or counter- 
attack, were now being swept by fire, and the sky was full 
of the black smoke clouds of German shrapnel and with the 
shrill whine of it. It was obvious that the comparative 
quietude of the days following our last attack on Fontaine- 
Notre-Dame has been used by the enemy to bring up more 
guns and store up supplies of ammunition, in order to sup- 


port the new attack to-day. It was remarkable to see the 
range and intensity of his fire, and he was shooting as far 
back as Bapaume, which is now a long way behind our lines. 
Many squadrons of our aeroplanes were overhead. The 
enemy's thrust against our positions round the forest of 
Bourlon was supported by masses of men, who succeeded 
in driving through for some distance on the west side of the 
forest, but were checked and driven back by our troops, 
who fought with the utmost gallantry and self-sacrifice. 
The battle is still in progress there, but from the latest re- 
ports it seems that the enemy has had to retire, after most 
bloody losses. 

Sir Julian Byng's strategy and victory when our troops 
broke through the Hindenburg line and swept into the 
country round Cambrai challenged the enemy to open war- 
fare. He has apparently accepted the challenge. It will 
be a new opportunity for generalship. 

December i 
It was inevitable, after our surprise victory on November 
20 and our break through the Hindenburg lines to the 
country round Cambrai, that the dangers as well as the 
advantages of open warfare should return on this part of 
the Front. 

Our advance, taking in Bourlon Wood on the north and 
ground beyond Masnieres and Marcoing, Gonnelieu and 
Villers-Guislan on the right, had made for us a new and 
rather perilous salient, which might tempt the enemy to 
retaliate heavily for the blow we had dealt him. During 
the past week he seemed to concentrate his efforts entirely 
on the northern side of this salient, by desperate attacks 
and counter-attacks on Bourlon Wood, Fontaine-Notre- 
Dame, and our lines west of Bourlon Wood by the village 
of Mceuvres; but meanwhile he was concentrating heavy 
forces with great secrecy, as we had assembled ours, on 
our right flank by Crevecceur and Lateau Wood and op- 
posite Villers-Guislan, in order to strike through at the 


weakest part of our salient, and so, if he had luck, cut off 
large numbers of our men and guns. 

The attack delivered yesterday morning had ambitious 
plans, and was directed from the north to pierce south- 
wards to the Cambrai road, past the west side of Bourlon 
Wood, while what was possibly a heavier attack was de- 
livered suddenly on our eastern or right flank in the direc- 
tion of Gonnelieu and Villers-Guislan. The northern at- 
tack failed, as I will tell later, with most bloody losses to 
the enemy. The southern attack had a success, which put 
a most severe strain upon our generalship and the dis- 
ciplined courage of our troops. Unfortunately the enemy 
was able to capture some of our guns which were very far 
forward, but some of these have been recovered after being 
in his hands for a few hours. 

After the comparative quietude along this part of the 
Front, which I described in a recent message, the enemy 
began a violent bombardment on and around Bourlon Wood 
on Thursday afternoon. This died down after dusk, and 
there was a fairly quiet night. There was no sign of a 
great attack until, about 7.30 on Friday morning, the 
enemy fired vast numbers of gas shells over our positions 
round the forest of Bourlon, and made a strong artillery 
demonstration all along the northern side of the salient, 
from Mceuvres on the west spreading eastward to Mar- 
coing and Masnieres. This was followed later in the north 
by heavy infantry attacks with masses of men on the west 
side of Bourlon Wood. 

On our right flank the attack began suddenly without a 
violent bombardment, and many battalions advancing with 
immense numbers of machine-guns debouched against our 
lines from Crevecceur, where they made straight for Villers- 
Guislan. We were holding our forward positions here 
thinly, and when this sudden weight of men was flung 
against them they were forced to give way and the enemy's 
columns broke through our lines rapidly, and the surprise 
of the attack was so great for a little while that in most 


cases our men were only aware of the enemy's break 
through when they saw his troops swarming close to them. 
A young gunner told me this morning that he was with 
his battery between La Vacquerie and Gonnelieu when, at 
about 7.30 yesterday morning, he heard an officer shout 
"Stand to your guns!" He rushed out of his dug-out to 
his battery and saw, only 300 yards away, a number of 
German soldiers advancing with machine-guns. This team 
of British gunners, with their officers, did not lose their 
nerve, although the surprise was stupefying. The officers 
gave orders for the direct laying of the guns on the enemy's 
ranks, and they actually fired some rounds and tore gaps 
in the German lines. But others ran forward, and were so 
close that our gunners were almost surrounded before 
they abandoned the battery and ran for safety. Three of 
the officers were hit by rifle or machine-gun fire, but the 
other gunners made their escape and joined the infantry. 
Afterwards they were given rifles and took part in the 
counter-attack which recaptured Gouzeaucourt and drove 
the enemy back. 

December 2 
In other parts of the field bodies of our men were caught by 
surprise through the rapidity of the first enemy advance, 
though the attack as a whole was not unexpected. In the 
neighbourhood of Marcoing and Masnieres the men off duty 
in some of our English battalions — Middlesex, Royal 
Fusiliers, and others of the 29th Division — had been sleep- 
ing in cellars and ruined cottages when the sentries gave 
the shout of "Stand to!" and all the men were hurried out 
to line up in the roads. Some of them told me yesterday 
that they saw the enemy advancing over high ground south 
of Masnieres in large numbers, and it was clear at a glance 
that our more advanced lines had been bent in. There does 
not seem to have been a direct attack on Masnieres or Mar- 
coing at that time, but some parties of the enemy swung 
to the right and got into Les Rues Vertes, which is a suburb 


of Masnieres, and were shattered by the machine-gun fire of 
our men, who also swept the ridge south of the St.-Quentin 
Canal, so that many German soldiers were seen to fall. 

"We strafed them properly," said a boy who had just 
come out of the battle with a bullet in his arm," but Fritz 
put down a frightful shell-fire into Marcoing this morning. 
And it wasn't a picnic for us." 

It was at Gouzeacourt that the surprise was greatest on 
Friday morning. This village was well behind the line of 
our recent advance, and had been organized as a forward 
station for wounded and some other purposes. It was here 
that many civilians were sent after their rescue from Mas- 
nieres, those poor women with babies and perambulators 
and pet dogs who made such a strange pitiful crowd on 
the morning among our guns and cavalry and German 
prisoners. We had a big field ambulance among the ruins, 
with a body of splendid young doctors, who worked like 
heroes and were very merry and bright when I went up to 
see them on the way to further fields. Many members of 
this little community believed themselves safe from the 
danger of front-line positions, though they did not believe 
that their immunity from shell-fire would last for ever. 
Early on Friday morning most of the hospital staff was 
asleep before the toil of the day. Some of the orderlies 
were up making coffee for the doctors. One medical of- 
ficer was in his rubber bath, and had just lathered himself 
very successfully with soap. In Gouzeacourt there was the 
stretching of arms of tired fellows who wanted another 
hour's sleep, and the yawning of men who wake to an- 
other day of strenuous work and the fragrance of coffee and 
frizzling bacon, which is the English soldier's incense to 
the gods of the dawn. Suddenly shots rang out. They 
were very close. The merry and bright young doctors sat 
up and lis.ened. The man with the lather of soap on his 
body put nis head out of his tent. More shots snapped out, 
like the cracking of whips, and they were right among the 
ruins of Gouzeaucourt. The enemy was there among 


them. He was inside Gouzeaucourt and all round it. The 
lathered man put a towel round his body and, as one of his 
comrades told me, hared down the street. Other men 
ran, and so got away. On the outskirts of the village some 
pioneers retreated down the road to Fins, but in Gouzeau- 
court most of the field ambulance staff found themselves 
in the hands of the enemy, with railwaymen and mule 
drivers and engineers and odds and ends of units who had 
been working in the place. 

By a queer chance I was on the road to Gouzeaucourt 
that morning, and it was only by a fluke of luck that I did 
not fall into the hands of the enemy. If I had been fifteen 
minutes earlier, or if I had not sensed something strange 
on the road, I should not have been writing this message. A 
friend of mine in the car with me was in sprightly humour, 
rather too sprightly I thought for such an early hour on a 
cold morning. He amused himself by the thought of what 
would happen if we got pinched by the enemy in Gouzeau- 
court or Villers-Pluich after a German break through. It 
was an uncanny conversation in view of what has happened, 
for neither of us had a ghost of an idea that such a thing 
was likely. It was at Fins that both of us began staring 
about curiously. There were a lot of men on the road 
coming in our direction. There was something queer about 
them. They were in odd groups, walking quietly without 
disorder, like labourers who have done their day's job and 
amble quietly home down the roads. A young gunner 
officer came up. 

''What has happened?" we asked. "The enemy has 
broken through," said the gunner officer. We were silent 
for a second, as men are silent who hear incredible things. 
Then one of us asked, "Where is the enemy?" The gunner 
officer pointed down the road and said, "There; this side 
of Gouzeaucourt." 

That was our little morning surprise, and we got the car 
round pretty quick. Then we tried to approach the Front 
by a different road, to the left up by Havrincourt and 


Hermies, and on the way saw and heard other strange 
things. Some of our artillery was on the move. We saw 
them galloping across the fields. In a quiet place the gun- 
ners stood to their guns, as though expecting an attack, 
but were not yet firing. Men were packing up ammuni- 
tion dumps and hospitals. In some places where on earlier 
days there had been much activity there was now a look of 

An officer rode up to us, and we asked him to tell us the 
situation on the north of the salient, for which we were 
heading. "The Boche is putting up a big attack," he said, 
"but so far we seem to be holding him. Anyhow, he has 
not got near this place." 

The news had not spread everywhere. In one field some 
Tommies were playing football. In some camps men were 
frying their breakfast bacon, as though all the world were 
at peace. We knew more about it then. We knew that 
north as well as south of the salient our men were fighting 
hard to hold back the enemy, and that our right wing was 
for the moment in jeopardy. As we got towards Havrin- 
court we saw the whole line of our northern front by Bour- 
lon Wood under shell-fire. The quietude of the past days 
was gone, and places where I had spent many hours on the 
way to the battlefields were fiery furnaces. Havrincourt 
Wood and the roads below it were under an intense bom- 
bardment. The enemy was flinging shells down the Bapaume- 
Cambrai road. Bourlon Wood, now held by the 47th 
(London) Division, and all the fields and villages to the 
left of it were filled with clouds of smoke from high ex- 
plosives, and for miles our own guns were sweeping a fury 
of drumfire over the advancing enemy. 

It was then that the enemy was trying to break through 
past Bourlon forest on the left and cut off the north- 
ern side of the salient. As we know now this northern 
attack, which started two hours after that on the right 
wing, was supported by six to seven divisions, who ad- 
vanced behind storms of gas shells and high explosives. 


For a time our troops had to yield ground, and some bodies 
of the enemy penetrated almost as far as the sugar factory 
on the Cambrai road, but were there repulsed by our men, 
who fought with enormous gallantry. They were then 
caught by our artillery fire, and these masses of men were 
forced into retreat and our guns followed them up, raking 
them as they went and slaughtering them. Our infantry 
followed them, too, with machine-gun and rifle fire, and 
re-established our line except for a bit of trench below 
Mceuvres. This northern attack of the enemy had failed 
utterly, with bloody losses, and that menace to our lines was 
for the day removed. 

Overhead the sky was blackened by our aircraft. I have 
seen many of our aeroplanes before on days of battle, but 
never so many squadrons and flights and single scouts as 
on Friday, when they were like flocks of crows over the 
enemy's lines. There was aerial fighting all day, for 
enemy planes came out in large numbers also, and chal- 
lenged our men to this deadly tournament in the skies. At 
7.30 there were thirty hostile planes over the Bonavis Farm 
area, and many fired white lights continuously over 
Gouzeaucourt and Gonnelieu and Villers-Guislan. 

All through Friday morning the situation was somewhat 
critical on the right by Gouzeaucourt, but it was relieved in 
the afternoon by magnificent counter-attacks by the Guards 
and some dismounted cavalry and Tanks and bodies of 
troops who had been retreating, fighting all the way, ?nd 
holding the enemy back by rear-guard actions with rifle-fire 
and machine-gun fire. Some of these men have told me 
that they fought all the way back like this in short rushes, 
lying down for volley-firing, then getting up and retreating 
before the advancing swarms of men, then lying down 
again for another bout of rifle-fire. They could not hold 
back the enemy. Some of their comrades were cut off, 
and it was up to the Guards to deliver a decisive counter- 
attack in the afternoon. 

The Germans had cavalry behind their infantry ready to 


pour through any serious gap in our lines. I saw the 
Guards on their way to this battle of Friday afternoon till 
Saturday morning. It was a thrilling and noble sight as 
the men marched down the roads towards Gouzeaucourt, 
knowing that in a few hours they would be fighting in a 
terrific way. They were tall and proper men, and they 
marched with full packs, but did not seem to feel the 
weight of them. They were led on by their bands playing 
gay music, with a fine, swinging rhythm in it, and these 
men stepped out jauntily, whistling and singing to the 
march tunes. Some of them were smoking their pipes, 
and others were munching apples and chocolate, and others 
were marching silently and thoughtfully, as though seeing 
ahead of them the battle into which they would soon be 
plunged. So they passed, and when I met some of them 
again they were seated in trucks of a train, covered with 
blankets to shelter them from the shrewd wind, so that it 
was all dark inside when I lifted the flap and looked at the 
rows of faces under bandaged heads, and with bodies lying 
there grievously wounded. They had fought their fight, 
and driven back the enemy beyond Gouzeaucourt and 
Quentin Ridge and Gonnelieu, and had broken the gravest 
part of the German menace. 

Before our counter-attack on Gouzeaucourt on Friday 
afternoon, followed by a further battle next morning at 
six, the enemy had had time to organize his defence, and 
his storm troops had brought up not only large numbers 
of machine-guns, but also field-guns with each battalion, 
to destroy our Tanks, which they expected to come back 
upon them. They had been ordered to attack and hold 
with all their strength. As we know from a captured 
order, their army-general had told them, in high-sounding 
words, that the English surprise attack, supported by 
masses of Tanks, had gained a victory near Cambrai, but 
now this victory was to be changed into defeat by the valour 
of German soldiers and the help of God. They were men 
of the 34th, 220th, 9th Reserve, 107th, and 28th Divisions, 


the last having been brought up fresh for this attack from 
the French Front at Laon. They were good troops, but 
they could not stand against the Guards and our dismounted 
cavalry and other English units. 

On Friday afternoon the Guards attacked from the direc- 
tion of Trescault, and another body of them from near 
Metz. They were met by the fiercest machine-gun fire, but 
enveloped Gouzeaucourt and fought their way into the vil- 
lage and beyond it, driving out the enemy by a hard strug- 
gle at close quarters, against snipers, machine-gunners, and 
bodies of riflemen under the cover of walls. Some of the 
infantry fled as soon as the Guards entered the village, but 
the machine-gunners fought a stubborn rear-guard action, 
and it was difficult to clear Gouzeaucourt of isolated groups, 
During their brief tenure of the place they had not been 
able to remove much of our material, and our dressing-sta- 
tion was very much as it had been left. Some of its per- 
sonnel was rescued, with other men who had been hiding 
in cellars, and shell-craters, including some American rail- 
way men who, as I will tell in another message, had had 
astounding adventures. 

The enemy retired that evening on to Quentin Ridge and 
Gauche Wood, and held in strong force the high ground of 
Lateau Wood, from which our 12th Division had with- 
drawn with most of their guns. On the following morn- 
ing, which was yesterday, the battle was resumed, and an- 
other attack by our infantry drove the enemy back from the 
Ridge and the Gauche Wood, and out through Gonnelieu, 
where we took some 300 prisoners and forty machine-guns, 
and recaptured a number of our guns which had been in the 
enemy's hands, as well as some of their own guns, which we 
took in the original advance on November 20. 

Our troops were helped enormously by the gallant work 
of the Tanks, whose crews advanced on the enemy and 
fought with the highest courage. The enemy's field-guns 
were brought into action against them at close range, but 
the crew of each Tank fought regardless of all risk, and got 


in among the enemy with their guns and caused great havoc 
among them. It was a battle fought almost without artil- 
lery on our side on this right wing, and our men had to 
advance against the most terrible machine-gun barrage they 
have ever known, so that it was sheer human valour which 
drove the enemy back and re-established the part of our 
line below Masnieres and Marcoing, so relieving our situa- 
tion for a time of its chief menace. 

During last night we withdrew in the region of Masnieres 
in order to straighten our line and get back from a position 
made untenable, because of the enemy's holding Lateau 
Wood and the ridges to the south-east of this village. It 
was after a series of attacks by the enemy, nine separate 
attacks during the day, in which more German soldiers 
were killed, it is reckoned, than ever before in the same 
time. It was a massacre of men, and dead bodies were 
piled on dead bodies and wounded on wounded by the 
sweep of our men's machine-gun and rifle fire. 

I have already told how the first waves of the Germans 
flowed up into Les Rues Vertes, the southern suburb of 
Masnieres, and were beaten back by our men of the 29th 
Division. After that successive bodies of storm troops 
tried to force their way into these streets. Nine times they 
came on, and nine times they were repulsed with great 
slaughter, getting no further than this outer suburb, where 
they seized some of the houses and held their outposts. Our 
men launched their final counter-attack after five o'clock 
yesterday afternoon, and cleared the enemy out and took 
groups of prisoners. In the litter of battle they found 
a German officer's message to his commander, saying that 
his position was untenable owing to the greatness of his 
losses and the severity of our counter-attacks. 



From Gonnelieu to Gouzeacourt 

December 3 
Before German troops advanced in their violent attack 
against our lines, which began last Friday morning and has 
been renewed to-day on our right wing with fresh troops, 
they were commanded in the order of the day by their 
army-general to retake all the ground lost by our victory 
on November 20, and promised that if they captured six 
kilometres they would gain peace. The German army 
on our front has been fighting for a long time under the 
impulse of these illusory promises of peace. There was 
to be peace if they held out till August, there was to be 
peace if they won the battle of Flanders; now there is to 
be peace if they gain the six kilometres of ground lost less 
than a fortnight ago. It is a pitiful thing, revealing the 
peace hunger of men who see nothing but slaughter ahead 
of them unless they can end this war. But to be just to 
them they are fighting now as hard as ever they have 
fought, and with a proud and savage spirit. 

A few days ago, when our North-country infantry of the 
62nd Division made their magnificent attack on Bourlon 
village, some of the German officers refused to surrender 
to the accursed English, as they called us. Two of them 
blew out their brains rather than be taken prisoner, and a 
non-commissioned officer committed hara-kiri before our 
men by thrusting a bayonet through his entrails. That is 
proof of the bitterness with which these Germans are fight- 
ing. Those men belonged to the Cockchafers, or Maikae- 
fer, who were shattered by the Welsh in the early days of 
the Flanders fighting, but other regiments not so famous 
are sacrificing themselves in their desperate attacks against 
us, as on the last day of last month, when they came down 
west of Bourlon Wood shoulder to shoulder in massed 


lines, and were mown down by machine-guns and the rifle- 
fire of our troops and by our field-guns, who never had such 
human targets. 

To-day's attack is another thrust from a front extending 
between Vendhuille and Epehy, with its spear-heads 
directed against La Vacquerie, Gonnelieu, and other places 
east of Gouzeaucourt, and south of Masnieres. A new 
German division has been brought from Flanders for this 
new attempt to break our lines. It is the eighth. The 
enemy's attack began this morning with violent destructive 
fire on a wide front following a storm of gas shells put over 
during the night, and a big battle is now in progress, with 
most intense fighting round Gonnelieu and La Vacquerie 
and south of Marcoing. 

It is too soon to give any details, and few reports have 
come back, but our troops are holding their lines with heroic 
valour against enormous forces. So did those battalions 
fight who stood the first shock of attack last Friday morn- 
ing, when the enemy broke through to Gouzeaucourt. 

Round by Gonnelieu there were Lancashire troops of 
the 55th Division who had fought also in our original ad- 
vance on the extreme right. "They must have fought like 
tigers" is the verdict of troops near them, but the story of 
their last stand cannot yet be told. 

Before I could mention our withdrawal from Masnieres 
on Sunday night, I gave a few details of the last fighting 
there, and that also is a wonderful story of human heroism. 
Our men of the 29th Division had to encounter nine German 
attacks in great force advancing into the suburb of Les 
Rues Vertes under the protection of frightful bombard- 
ment. They repulsed these attacks nine times with machine- 
gun and rifle fire until enemy officers sent back word that 
their position in this suburb was untenable and they had to 
retreat from our annihilating fire. But by this time Mas- 
nieres was at the end of a sharp salient formed by the 
enemy's gain of the ridge below, and during the night, ac- 
cording to orders, our men withdrew unknown to the 


enemy, who were busy with their dead and wounded. Even 
on Sunday morning the Germans did not know that not a 
single English soldier remained in Masnieres, and they bom- 
barded it anew before sending forward more storm troops 
in the afternoon, when they discovered its abandonment. 

Yesterday afternoon at the same time they made three 
separate attacks on La Vacquerie, and each time were 
shattered by machine-gun and rifle fire, so that the ground 
is strewn with their dead. 

Fighting just as hard and just as terrible made a horror 
of Gonnelieu, where the Lancashire men of the 55th Divi- 
sion were fighting. The streets of that village are littered 
with bodies, and the place must be a shambles. It is dif- 
ficult to calculate the German losses since that hour of 7.30 
on Friday morning, when they made their tremendous at- 
tempt to reverse our victory of November 20, and to re- 
capture their lost ground. We have inevitably suffered 
heavy losses, too, in this enormous struggle to beat back the 
enemy's massed forces and to hold our lines against great 
fire. But the enemy's losses in attack must be fantastic 
in their tragic numbers. Our machine-gun fire has swept 
their ranks time and time and again, mowing down long 
lines of men, and in the northern part of the attack espe- 
cially our artillery had cut swathes in their battalions. 

I have described in as much detail as possible what hap- 
pened at Gouzeaucourt and neighbourhood, when the 
enemy drove in our line and swept forward over some of 
our newly gained ground, but I have not yet told much 
about the beginning of that attack, the most ambitious part 
of the attack on the northern side of the salient that same 
morning. All through the night it had been quiet about 
Bourlon Wood. At 4.30, before dawn, our men there and 
on the left by Tadpole Copse and troops to the right of 
Moeuvres reported all quiet. It was not until several hours 
later that one or two abrupt messages came back from the 
front line, and then no more. "Enemy advancing on us." 
"Heavy concentration of hostile troops coming down past 


Quarry Wood." "Enemy approaching our brigade head- 

Approaching brigade headquarters ! Why, that was well 
behind our lines. If that were true the enemy must have 
broken through in depth, and there would be the devil 
to pay. It was not true about brigade headquarters. The 
message was in error, and meant to say the battalion head- 
quarters, which was quite another thing, but it gave a 
shock to the officers who were receiving other messages 
from their right, reporting that the enemy had broken 
through at Gonnelieu and Villers-Guislan, and that later 
he was on the west side of Gouzeaucourt, and that many 
of our men had been surrounded. A shock, but nothing to 
cause loss of nerve to men who know that a large sum of 
human life depends on their coolness to deal with a crisis 
like this. 

"Are your guns all right?" went a question down the 
wire, and the answer came back, "We're all right; killing 
them in hundreds." 

At 9.15 a.m. large bodies of German troops, to the 
strength of a division, were seen entering Mceuvres. An 
hour later our SOS went up on the west side of the Canal 
du Nord, and thirty-five minutes later on the east side of the 

Long waves of men in field grey — no need to ask their 
business — were seen coming like slow-moving waves over 
the rolling ground towards the Bapaume-Cambrai road, 
south-west of Bourlon Forest. Our men of the 2nd Divi- 
sion, which had relieved the 36th Ulster Division on No- 
vember 2,7, and of the 47th (London) Division, saw them 
lying behind machine-guns, lying in tussocky grass with 
rifles ready, standing on the fire-step of trenches below 
Mceuvres, on the west bank of the canal, and standing to 
the guns, field-batteries, and howitzers in open country not 
far back from these advancing hordes. 

Our men were staring at these grey fellows who came 
over with packs on their backs. "Looked as if they was 


come to stay/' said a Cockney fellow afterwards, and then 
he added with a grim laugh, "and they was." Some of 
them stayed alive, and many of them stayed dead. Our 
machine-guns were arranged for an attack like this. They 
had been waiting for it. They had arranged direct bar- 
rage-fire and enfilade-fire to kill an attack or counter-attack 
any way it should come. And now on that Friday morn- 
ing they let go, and fired as our machine-gunners have 
rarely fired before, in steady sweeps of bullets, belt after 
belt, till each machine-gun team had a great litter of spent 
belts lying around them. 

One battery alone fired over 70,000 rounds at no fewer 
than ten successive waves of German infantry. As we 
know from prisoners, they were Germans of the 49th, 16th, 
and 20th Divisions. These men advanced with more than 
Oriental dedication to death. The foremost lines were 
swept by machine-gun, rifle, and artillery fire, and fell dead 
and wounded in the grass. Other men came behind them 
and fell. Others followed, and others, and others, these 
waves of field-grey fellows, and always they came a little 
nearer in spite of their losses, survivors closing up the ranks 
and coming forward until they were within about 1000 
yards of our machine-guns, still sweeping them as scythes 
sweep a line of wheat. Then in the centre they wavered, 
broke and fled followed by all our fire, by heavy artillery as 
well as light artillery and rifle fire and more machine-gun 
fire. Only on the German right and our left did the enemy 
enter our line, that was in the trenches on the outskirts of 
Mceuvres, just north of the Cambrai road, where we held 
a German communication trench running up at right angles 
from the old German trench system now in our hands. 

Our men here had to retreat from that isolated bit of 
trench, and to abandon about 200 yards of old German sup- 
port trench, but not without hard fighting. It was fight- 
ing with bayonet and bombs, and it is still fighting with 
bayonets and bombs, for it is going on now as for three 
days past, and the Royal Fusiliers told me they have been 


killing Germans all that time, and terrible slaughter was 
done by the South Staffordshires, Middlesex Regiment, 
Berkshires, ist King's Royal Rifles, and the Oxford and 
Bucks of the 2nd Division. Before these trenches there is 
a litter of dead, but more where the long lines came over 
west of Bourlon Wood, and, like water instead of human 
life, followed in wave after wave, and were spilt upon the 
earth. Thirty prisoners have been taken in the trenches 
where the enemy penetrated. They talk of their losses 
like men who have seen a great tragedy; incredible losses, 
if one did not know the truth. They believe that the Ger- 
man High Command will not order another attack like that 
because of its cost, but there they have more belief in the 
humanity of the German High Command than experience 
warrants or the law of war. Perhaps the enemy has not 
abandoned his original hope of regaining all the ground 
we took from him when the Tanks and troops broke the 
Hindenburg lines, and will go to far lengths of sacrifice in 
blood and agony to achieve this purpose. 

In the past fortnight our troops have done so many mar- 
vellous acts of courage that I despair of ever giving more 
than faint far-off glimpses of the great sum of valour re- 
vealed in all these attacks and counter-attacks. I wish I 
could give the names of many single men, like one brilliant 
young soldier who now lies dead, and whose life was a fine 
promise of genius to our Army; but the rules are against 
it, and even in the time I have, writing between one battle 
and another, I can only scramble down a few broad pictures 
of all this struggle. The spirit of our men in this fighting 
has never been more audacious in attack, nor more endur- 
ing in defence. In attack it is shown, as one example out 
of a hundred, when two young Yorkshire officers on the 
night before Sir Julian Byng's historic victory, out in ad- 
vance of a Tank in trouble, crawled through the enemy's 
barbed wire by Havrincourt and reconnoitred the ground 
so well that many lives were saved by their guidance, and 
the few scraps I had written about these North-country 


troops of the 62nd Division who fought through Bourlon 
village on November 27 do no justice to the most amazing 
fight, in which they beat back the enemy from buried houses, 
fighting from wall to wall, gained high ground which had 
been lost in the Bourlon Wood by heavy counter-attacks, 
wired it that night and made it secure in defence. 

It was a Yorkshire officer belonging to the 185th Brigade 
of the 62nd Division who rescued the East Surreys left in 
Bourlon village, 500 of them, with seven officers. A signal- 
ler came back through the enemy's lines with news of their 
plight, and then collapsed after handing in his message. 
The officer volunteered to go into the village and guide the 
East Surreys back. He went in right through the enemy's 
lines, through streets of dead and German machine-gun 
posts, and it was his guidance which helped to save the East 
Surreys. London men and Lancashire men have done acts 
as brave as this, which one day must be told. 

December 2 
I had not time to tell yesterday of my meeting by chance 
a number of American railwaymen and engineers who had 
been engaged in construction work near Gouzeaucourt, and 
running up trains laden with supplies for our troops in the 
neighbourhood of Villers-Pluich and Villers-Guislan. I 
saw these men yesterday morning after they had been sur- 
rounded by the enemy for hours, and had then, with great 
cunning, made their escape to our lines. They are a splen- 
did body of men, hard and keen and good-humoured, who 
made a joke of their thrilling adventure and of their pres- 
ent danger, which was not at an end, as the enemy was 
putting over heavy shells at odd moments, and one burst 
with an enormous explosion only 100 yards or so away from 
them when I stood among them. 

"I guess I had a near call," said one of them from St. 
Louis, Missouri, and he told me how when he was standing 
by his train, which had a full load of rations for the Eng- 
lish troops, he was suddenly startled by shells bursting 


round his engine and saw the enemy approaching over the 
ridge by Villers-Guislan. 

"One of your Tommies was standing near me," said the 
American, "and he bent down and picked up a bit of shrap- 
nel, and said, 'Bio wed if it ain't hot,' and then he looked up 
again and said, 'I'm blessed if old Fritz hasn't gone and 
broken through.' Just as he said that, a shell burst close, 
and the poor lad was killed, not an arm's length away from 
me. I guessed it was time to quit, and I ran hard and 
found the enemy all round me. So I took to hiding in a 
shell-hole, and lay there until this morning." 

Four of his comrades in the engine crew had the same 
experience, and one was wounded in the thigh, but they all 
had the luck to escape. Another American engineman was 
first startled by a German aeroplane, which came straight 
down the track near Villers-Pluich, flying very low and 
firing a machine-gun. 

"I hadn't a steel hat handy," said this man, "so I picked 
up a petrol tin and put that on my head, and thought it 
might be better than nothing. Then I saw Germans, and 
thought to myself this is a queer kind of fix for a fellow 
from America laying rails behind the English lines, so I 
crouched down behind the engine and hoped the Germans 
wouldn't see me. I guess they didn't, or I shouldn't be 

Another American came up with a grin on his face. "I'm 
from Tennessee," he said, and he was a tall, lean, swarthy 
fellow, as like a Mexican cowboy as any fellow of that kind 
I have seen on the films. "What happened to you?" I 
asked ; and he told me that all sorts of things had happened 
to him since six o'clock the previous morning, but he hadn't 
time to tell the yarn, except that after his escape from 
the Germans, who were all around him, he got through and 
borrowed a Tommy's gun and fought all day with our in- 
fantry, and liked it. 

"It's not the first time I've held a gun in my hand," he 


said. "I was in the Spanish-American War and other 
places. I guess I knocked out a few Boches for you." 

One of the American railway teams had their track 
blown up ahead of them by forward patrols of Germans, 
and these also tell me that they thought it time to quit, and 
quitted. But afterwards they formed part of some patrols 
who volunteered for service with our infantry, and so saw 
some very hard fighting with out Guards at Gouzeacourt. 
Among them was a number of New York men. 

All these Americans showed a high and splendid spirit, 
and our men are loud in praise of them. "It was the dog- 
gonest experience I have ever had," said one of them, "and 
a mighty close call anyway." 

They had some casualties among them, but by good luck 
only a few. 

December 4 
All day yesterday the enemy continued his thrusts against 
our lines from the St. Quentin Canal by Marcoing south- 
ward to the neighbourhood of Gonnelieu and La Vac- 
querie. His plan of attack was direct and obvious. It 
was to drive through our lines below Marcoing by way of 
the small copse to the south-east of the village, and at the 
same time to break through towards Villers-Pluich and 
Metz-en-Couture by gaining the high ground of La 
Vacquerie and its surrounding heights and the St. Quentin 
Ridge. In this endeavour the enemy has flung in large 
numbers of men, at least the battalions of six divisions, 
on that narrow front of attack, not counting the cost, not 
hesitating to send forward new battalions after those shat- 
tered by our fire, never weakening in his pressure against 
our men, even where he could make no advance, and send- 
ing up immediate supports to take advantage of any tem- 
porary success. 

So at the end of the year we find ourselves engaged in a 
battle more decisive in its issues, perhaps, than all the fight- 
ing of the months which have preceded it, though forced 


upon the enemy by all that has gone before — by his weak- 
ening man-power after his enormous casualties in Artois 
and Flanders, by his loss of the Passchendaele Ridge, 
which has robbed him of his great north wall of defence, so 
that he may lie open to attack in the plains next year, and 
by the immediate threat to his line of communication 
through Cambrai after the smashing of his Hindenburg 
lines by Sir Julian Byng's army. He seems to be forcing 
a decisive fight in open country, and how much of political 
and how much of military significance there is in this it is 
for other people than myself to estimate. His prisoners 
tell us that they have been promised peace if they win this 
battle. Let it go at that. 

With whatever inspiration they may have behind them 
the German troops are fighting with most fierce and stub- 
born courage, and because of that their losses yesterday and 
since Friday morning last have been, in our men's judg- 
ment — and they ought to know — enormous, as the price of 
what they have gained. They have not gained very much 
yet, considering the violence of their efforts, though by 
sheer repetition of their attacks by masses of men flinging 
themselves into the face of our fire, they have extended 
their progress towards Marcoing, won some of the high 
ground about La Vacquerie, and have a foothold on the 
St. Quentin Ridge above our country round Metz and 
Gouzeaucourt. Our men, therefore, are in the midst of a 
struggle as severe as anything that has faced British troops 
since the second Battle of Ypres. Since then on this front 
our enemy has been on the defensive, apart from his furious 
counter-attacks in the battles of the Somme and the Arras 
fighting and Flanders, which were for defensive reasons. 
But now the offensive is with him, and he is forcing the 
pace and fighting all out. It is ferocious fighting, pre- 
ceded as usual on the enemy's side by poison gas and sup- 
ported by heavy artillery. Our men are denying the enemy's 
advance yard by yard, and if ground is yielded, as in our 
withdrawal from the salient at Masnieres, and yesterday 


from Marcoing Copse below the Chapel of the Virgin at 
the entrance of the town, and from some of the slopes 
about La Vacquerie, it is only after a butchery of Ger- 
mans and rear-guard actions which, I suppose, will be 
counted as among the most bloody episodes of this war. 

It is perhaps unnecessary to say that our men realize the 
high importance of this battle, yet I must say it, because it 
is in each man's mind, and is the guiding thought which 
urges these men of ours to the most desperate resistance 
in places where for a time they have been cut off or out- 
numbered. The wounded who come back out of that zone 
of shell-fire and machine-gunning find only one comfort in 
their state, and that is that the enemy could not break their 
lines, or if he broke them for a time was thrust back again. 

As long as I live I shall never forget those Guards and 
English county troops whom I met the other morning 
after out counter-attacks, which drove the enemy out of 
Gouzeaucourt and back from Gonnelieu. These men had 
been through machine-gun fire diabolical in its fury. They 
had lain out all night under heavy shell-fire, and had at- 
tacked again in the following morning, and had been 
wounded, and then had hobbled back to the first-aid dress- 
ing-station, and now after getting a bandage round their 
wounds lay in trucks on the light railway, huddled to- 
gether in the darkness under tarpaulin and blanket covers 
which a wind with the edge of a knife in its blast tried to 
tear away from them. They had seen war at its worst — 
savage fighting at close quarters, fighting through houses 
and over broken walls and down in dark cellars, and they 
had fought cold and fought thirsty, and had been sur- 
rounded all night by the awful sounds and sights of such a 
battlefield. So they did not speak light-hearted things nor 
breezy things, which those who know not war like to put 
into the mouths of our men, but gravely and quietly they 
described the battle and their own share in it, and what was 
then the peril of the situation. I spoke to them under the 
cover of those trucks in a strange twilight which was al- 


most darkness, so that I could see the faces of only one or 
two men, and beyond that only blurred shadow faces. 
But these men's voices rose up from the bottom of the 
trucks where they lay, like voices speaking out of that 
shadow world where there is only truth. 

One man said: "I didn't care for anything as long as 
we drove them back," and another said : 'We knew we had 
got to get them back, or they would be all over us, so we 
let them have it and went through Gouzeaucourt without a 
check," and another said: 'Their machine-gun fire was 
frightful," and another: "The Germans want to make a 
big battle of this. There will be some bloody fighting be- 
fore we're through with it." Then a last voice laughed in 
a grim way, and said: "I'm out of it now with a hole in 

my leg." 

In another place I sat down by the side of a young gun- 
ner who had lost his guns in the first break through. He 
was one of those who had been given rifles and put into the 
line with infantry and dismounted cavalry, and American 
railwaymen and Canadian engineers, and men of the labour 
battalions. He was only a boy, but he spoke with the 
gravity of an old man as he leaned forward, looking at his 
wounded leg in a thoughtful way. 

"It's Fritz's turn now," he said. "He's trying to get 
back on us. We shall have to put up a big fight to stop 

"Do you think we shall?" I asked. He looked up at me 
under his steel hat, and said, "We've got to." 

And that is the spirit in which our men are fighting — a 
stern, grim, stubborn spirit, holding on to positions until 
they become untenable, and sometimes after they have be- 
come untenable, so that bodies of them are cut off, as 
yesterday were some groups on the north side of St. Ouen- 
tin Canal by Marcoing, fighting to the last so that other 
troops may fall back in safety. Nobody is able to see 
these things among the streets of ruined villages, in sunken 
roads and bits of trench by La Vacquerie and Marcoing 



Copse and the country round Gonnelieu. Only the men 
who come back can tell of them, and many do not come 
back, and some who come back do not tell much, because 
these things cannot be put into words by simple men who do 
not analyse their own emotions, or say more than "it was 
very hot" in their description of a scene where, perhaps, 
they were a little group of worn and weary men holding 
a forlorn hope, with many dead and wounded round them, 
and the last belt of a machine-gun to hold back swarms of 
field-grey foes. To-day there is one such post beyond Mar- 
coing, and yesterday a few thin groups of men held out to 
the last in Marcoing Copse and round La Vacquerie before 
the enemy came through his dead and wounded in another 
attacking wave. 

Yesterday the enemy delivered at least three big attacks 
on La Vacquerie, and this was the storm centre of all the 
battle, and it is certain from what all our men say that the 
German losses in that neighbourhood were very great, so 
that the ground is strewn with bodies who fell under our 
machine-gun and rifle fire. All the German battalions 
advanced in dense order, without attempt of concealment, 
so that their ranks withered under our men's steady fire. 
At 3.15 in the afternoon a new and>powerful thrust was 
made by German storm troops west of Masnieres, in the 
direction of Marcoing, and for a time our line was pierced. 
But our supporting troops closed up and the gap was stopped, 
and a quick counter-attack threw back the enemy's line 
at least part of the way it had come, though they are now 
on the eastern edge of Marcoing, held at bay by that one 
brave little outpost, which may have withdrawn by the 
time I write. 

The 1 66th Brigade of the 55th Division, all Lancashire 
battalions, countered repeated attacks westwards from Gon- 
nelieu, and our artillery shattered many of the enemy's 
attempts to assemble and smothered many of his guns with 
shell-fire, especially in the Banteau Ravine, where he had a 


large concentration of batteries, so that many of them were 
put out of action. 

Some of our men who were cut off in the earlier fighting, 
like those taken prisoner at Gouzeaucourt, have found their 
way back into our lines after hiding on the enemy's side of 
the line, and among them are some English lads belonging 
to a party of forty who were taken prisoner and put into a 
barbed-wire enclosure beyond the Escaut River and Canal. 
But our men who found themselves there did not sit down 
in despair. They waited till dark and then made their 
escape, and working back towards our lines swam the canal 
and so got back to their comrades in Marcoing. 

Other men have been rescued in our counter-attacks. 
One of whom I have just heard was a gunner officer with 
one of our generals who had his headquarters in a quarry 
near Gouzeaucourt. When the Germans broke through 
on Friday morning the general and some of his staff had to 
made a rapid retreat down the road, and were nearly caught. 
The gunner officer was not so quick, because of a wound in 
his knee, and fell into the enemy's hands, but they did not 
trouble to take him back with them when they fled before 
the Guards. 

It is too soon yet to claim any decisive results after all 
this fighting, but in spite of the enemy's gain of ground 
yesterday, which may be increased a little to-day, or to- 
morrow — let us be prepared for that — the anxiety of our 
defence has lifted perceptibly during the last twelve hours, 
and men of responsibility are breathing more easily again 
after hours of suspense and tension, inevitable at such a 
time when the enemy was launching the full weight of his 
attack. He has struck his heaviest blows, it seems. At 
least, the full shock of his first blow, upon which much of 
his success depended, has been withstood, and our lines have 
remained firm after a few withdrawals, as at Masnieres, and 
the neighbourhood of Gonnelieu. The menace of anything 
like a big German victory overbalancing and overwhelming 
our own dramatic success of November 20, seems to have 


passed, and with it the grandiose promises of the German 
command for the inspiration of their soldiers. 

A frightful price has been paid by the enemy for his 
slight progress, and there is now good reason to believe that 
whatever strength they decide to bring up it can be resisted 
in the same way, with here and there, no doubt, some yield- 
ing of ground, with orderly withdrawals from positions 
made too costly to hold against continual waves of attack 
and great storms of fire, but without any collapse or 
debacle which might repay the enemy for this last of- 
fensive of the year. 

His first plan seems to have been well thought out. 
Against such a salient as we held after our break through 
the Hindenburg line it had a chance of success. He was 
cunning in bringing up his troops secretly, as we had done 
ours, and in holding the hour of his first attack until after 
our morning patrols had gone the rounds and reported all 
quiet in his line. But he was disappointed by the utter 
failure of the northern attack against Bourlon Wood, and 
by losing very quickly what advantage he had gained on 
our right flank in the first surprise. 

After that he has been held and punished in a dreadful 
way, and the grim valour of our soldiers, fighting him 
every yard of the way in this fierce, close, and bloody strug- 
gle, where human tragedy and human courage are crowded 
into small plots of ground, has broken the German assault 
in its first and most decisive phase. That, at least, is our 
sober hope and belief, though the fortune of war will 

December 6 
The Commander-in-Chief has announced this afternoon in 
his official communique the news of our withdrawal from 
part of the ground captured in our advance on November 
20, in order to avoid holding the sharp salient made by 
Bourlon Wood and our line running down east and west 
of it. This operation has been very secretly done, and was 


carried out with the finest courage and discipline by our 
troops after the plan was decided. It was not an easy or 
safe thing to do, and its success depended on the enemy's 
complete ignorance of our intention and the valour of the 
rear-guards holding on to positions to the last possible 
moment, ready to fight hard until the main bodies of troops 
had withdrawn to our present line of defence. Any pre- 
mature discovery might have led to immediate pressure of 
the enemy against our forward posts and considerable dan- 
ger to those falling back behind them. So far from this 
happening the enemy was thoroughly deceived as to our 
intentions, and long after the withdrawal had been effected 
on our left yesterday morning, he put down a heavy bom- 
bardment on the abandoned trenches near Mceuvres, and 
afterwards launched a strong infantry attack on those 
positions, watched at a distance by our men, who chuckled 
at this furious advance upon mythical defenders. It seemed 
a huge joke to our men, whose sense of humour was sharp- 
ened by their sense of safety. 

The withdrawal began the night before last. It was very 
cold and still over the battlefields, with a hard frost on the 
ground and a bright moon shining over its whiteness. But 
mist floated about the fields, and our men moved silently 
like shadows in it, and if the enemy saw any movement he 
did not suspect anything more than the business of relief. 
It was in the Bourlon Wood area that, as yesterday morn- 
ing drew on, he first suspected a strange emptiness. He 
sent his patrols forward, and as they crept into the wood 
and south of Bourlon village, they must have seen pretty 
quickly signs of our having packed up and gone. We left 
nothing behind, and destroyed dug-outs and works which 
the enemy had built, and we had occupied during the fort- 
night's adventure. 

At midday yesterday small bodies of Germans were seen 
advancing very cautiously over the rising ground south of 
Bourlon village, and half an hour later groups of them 
approached the ruins of the sugar factory, which had once 


been their balloon shed. They hesitated here ; did not seem 
to like the look of things ; crept round and about; and then, 
spurring their courage, went inside. Later, after news had 
been taken back or signalled back, strong forces of the 
enemy came forward, showing themselves on the sky-line 
and advancing in open order down the slope. At one 
o'clock our artillery, which had been very quiet waiting for 
their targets, opened fire, and swept all this ground with 
shrapnel, so that all these standing figures fell, some of 
them killed and wounded, and all of them taking to earth. 
Our bombardment was maintained, but all through the day 
up to seven o'clock in the evening groups and scattered 
bodies of German troops were seen working southwards to 
get in touch with our new line of defence, which they could 
not locate. A little while after dusk yesterday about 400 
of them were seen on the south side of the Cambrai road, 
and at nine o'clock our men saw another 300 or so south- 
east of Bourlon Wood. I hear that two prisoners were 
captured by our men from these forward patrols, and they 
said that three battalions of their regiment were all ad- 
vancing in order to maintain pressure on our rear-guards 
and get in contact, if possible, with our main line. All 
through the day hostile aeroplanes flew over our lines trying 
to observe our new positions, but they could not have dis- 
covered what they wanted, for long after our abandonment 
of Bourlon Wood and other positions around it, the enemy 
heavily shelled these places. During the afternoon con- 
siderable bodies of men seemed to be assembling in the 
centre of our line for an asault in mass, but our guns dealt 
with them and shattered them where they were, under cover 
of a sunken road. This morning the enemy still seemed 
bewildered as to our exact positions and intentions. 

On our right wing yesterday there was violent fighting 
again around La Vacquerie, but the enemy's new thrust 
in that direction was repulsed after much killing of his 
men, and we pressed him back from some of the ground he 
had gained in the earlier fighting. 


The events between November 20 and our strategical 
withdrawal from Bourlon Wood to the present line form 
one of the most thrilling and extraordinary episodes in the 
history of this war. It began when Sir Julian Byng's 
audacious and cunning plan of attack without preliminary 
bombardment and with large numbers of Tanks stupefied 
the enemy and opened a wide breach in the Hindenburg 
line through which our infantry and cavalry passed out into 
the open country round Cambrai, and did amazing things 
which have not yet all been told — as, for instance, the story 
of the German prisoners that some of our troopers actually 
rode into Cambrai itself on that first night of victory. 

Ten thousand prisoners were taken by us, and it is be- 
lieved that, but for certain elements of bad luck, Cambrai 
might have been ours, though it was not within our expec- 
tations. The enemy was quick in hurling up guns and 
reinforcements and developed violent counter-attacks. In 
all those he lost prodigiously in men, and the number of his 
casualties must have been extravagantly high, even accord- 
ing to accounts given by his own prisoners. After all this 
fighting and one day of vicissitudes, during which the 
enemy had the luck to get through a weak place in our 
advanced lines and overrun some of the country we had 
gained, we had withdrawn to strong positions on ground 
seized from the enemy in a cheap and easy way. Here we 
remain secure, with good observation and strong lines 
behind us. 

December 7 
We are now back in strong defensive positions south of 
Bourlon Wood and west of Gonnelieu and Villers-Guislan, 
chosen when we were forced to withdraw, and with Hinden- 
burg lines, old Hindenburg front and support lines behind 
us. I have already given yesterday some details of the 
way in which our retirement was achieved with fine skill 
and discipline by our covering troops in the neighbourhood 
of Bourlon Wood. It is a proof of the wonderful secrecy 


with which these plans were carried out that there was only 
one casualty in Bourlon Wood during the time our men 
were getting away. They were glad to get away. For big 
strategical reasons we may regret that we could not get 
hold of the black forest on high ground which dominates 
the northern approaches to Cambrai, and for which our men 
fought with fine valour, so that always those dim glades 
will be haunted by heroic memories of young Yorkshire 
lads who fought and died there, and of the pilots and crews 
of Tanks who came crashing through the undergrowth, 
rooting out nests of German machine-gunners and trenches 
full of infantry dug behind barricades of fallen trunks. If 
we had succeeded in widening our hold on all the high 
ground around the forest, and getting beyond the village of 
Fontaine-Notre-Dame, Cambrai would have been a costly 
possession for the enemy, and we might have gained the 
town as a crowning prize of the year's fighting. That was not 
to be. It was not within the expectations of our first plan 
of attack on November 20, though the success of that day 
raised high hopes in some minds. 

That we have abandoned Bourlon Wood will be a disap- 
pointment to map-makers, who find it good to draw new 
lines of our advance. To our men who had to hold it, the 
withdrawal was a relief from a place of horror. When I 
watched the shelling of that forest I shuddered in spirit at 
the sinister aspect of it, that big black belt of trees on the 
ridge above Graincourt and Anneux, and all the country 
beyond Anneux, so grim, so still, so silent. There was 
never sign of life within it. The trees seemed more motion- 
less than those of other woods, and blacker below the 
clouds or blue sky. It was such a forest where, in old 
days, lonely knights would have crossed themselves as they 
went through, the rider expecting to meet witch-women and 
evil creatures. Our knights and men-at-arms met things 
as bad as that. The enemy flung his gas shells into the 
forest, soaked all its glades and undergrowth with poison 
gas, so that every bush reeked with it, and all the sodden 


leaves of autumn fall so that moisture on tree-trunks and 
every bead of dew or rain on branches and twigs was a drop 
of poison, and floating mists were heavy with it. In a place 
that is thoroughly gassed men are compelled to work and 
fight and sleep in their gas-masks ; they dare not take them 
off to drink or eat When our men left Bourlon Wood 
there was enough poison in the wood to last for three or 
four days. On that Tuesday night last, when our men 
stole away in good order and in utter silence, they were 
wearing their gas-masks as usual under their steel hats, so 
that as moonlight filtered through the tracery of the branches 
and slanted through the tall, black pillars of the quiet trees, 
our soldiers must have looked horribly like men bewitched 
into foul forms by spirits from this wood. They broke the 
evil spell when outside this forest of Bourlon. They pulled 
off their masks — these white-faced, weary fellows of ours — 
and breathed freely again. The enemy shelled the wood 
very heavily again on Wednesday morning, flung more gas 
into it, so that wreaths of white vapour curled about those 
black trunks, but our men watched all that from a distance, 
and said : "Fritz can go on with that as long as he likes." 
Along other parts of our line of withdrawal, round 
Graincourt and Anneux and Cantaing, and round the 
peninsula made by the bend of the canal by Marcoing, some 
hint must have been given to the enemy of our intentions, 
because of explosions caused by the blowing up of his 
dug-outs and tunnels, and the bridges and locks, by small 
parties of men who stayed on to the last moment and then 
touched off the fuses. Fires rose, making the night-sky 
ruddy for miles around, and these loud concussions of 
sound shaking the earth must have warned the enemy 
that we were preparing for a move. But the strength of 
our outpost line and the activity of our rear-guards, who 
fought his patrols as they pushed out and killed or scat- 
tered them, kept him perplexed and anxious, and after- 
wards, when he sent larger forces forward, waves of storm 


troops advancing in the open, many of them were destroyed 
by our artillery. 

All through Tuesday night out batteries were moving 
back to their new positions in that grey moonlit shadow- 
world of the battlefield beyond the ruins of Havrincourt 
and the Flesquieres Ridge, and the long winding trail of the 
Hindenburg line. They were the guns which had been 
brought up secretly a fortnight before for Sir Julian 
Byng's surprise attack, and had galloped forward with their 
limbers after the great break through, and then in those far 
positions perilously near the enemy's lines, had broken up 
massed counter-attacks, and on that Friday morning when 
the enemy came through our lines on the right, had saved 
the situation by smashing back the long, dense streams of 
men who tried to break our northern lines in the salient. 
Among them were guns which had been withdrawn hastily 
after rapid firing, when on that same Friday morning large 
bodies of field-grey men swarmed suddenly very close to 
them, and one battery was there, as I shall tell later in a 
strange narrative of heroic defence, which maintained fire 
for an hour and a half several hundreds of yards in advance 
of any infantry, utterly isolated, but sweeping the enemy's 
lines as they advanced from Crevecceur and keeping back 
their battalions by great slaughter. These guns were in 
their new positions by the coming of dawn, and all next 
day they found many human targets, so that the enemy's 
progress towards our outpost line was marked by lines of 
dead. Yesterday afternoon he was still in doubt as to our 
real line of defence, and still his patrols were being resisted 
so strongly by our outposts that he had to send up rein- 
forcements of infantry to press back these brave little 
groups of men. 

At 3.30 in the afternoon these men, forming a reconnais- 
sance in force, advanced upon Orival Wood, which is a 
small copse south-east of Graincourt. Our guns sighted 
them, and opened fire with such intensity, after getting the 
range, that a rough estimate numbers the German dead at 


2000 in that attempt. In the same way, three German bat- 
talions, advancing to attack from the direction of Grain- 
court, were utterly shattered and dispersed. Round about 
the village of Anneux, which we abandoned at the same 
time as Bourlon Wood, the enemy was so ignorant of our 
departure that he put a violent storm of fire into this place, 
and then attacked it with a considerable force of infantry, 
as though it were fully garrisoned, though not a man or boy 
remained among its ruins. 


The Triumph of the Tanks 

December 7 
In all this recent fighting — not only when our troops 
swarmed througn the Hindenburg lines and out into the 
open country towards Cambrai, but during the last few days 
when the enemy has tried to come back at us with tremen- 
dous blows — the strange grey forms of the Tanks have been 
moving over the open fields and through the ruins of vil- 
ages, and in outposts of our line where the sweep of fire 
from their flanks has kept the enemy at bay or chased him 
back. I saw them on the first morning of our break through 
up by Villers-Pluich and Flesquieres — queer, low-squatting 
things moving slowly in the creeping mists, no more visible 
than shadows in that twilight of the early day — and after- 
wards I saw them below Havrincourt on the way to Grain- 
court and Bourlon Wood on a day of battle, many of them 
crawling about the battlefield or resting under cover like 
herds of prehistoric animals. A few of them, hit by shell- 
fire, or broken down after long travels over the bad ways, 
lie about the slopes and ridges of these battlegrounds, as a 
few of them lie still, rusting and rotting — poor, broken 
skeletons — on the old battlefields of the Somme, the relics of 
that day of great adventure on September 15 last year when 
the secret of the Tanks was first revealed, and our men 


went laughing behind them into battle — some of them, per- 
haps, believing that they had only to go on walking behind 
Tanks to get the enemy out of France and Belgium. 

That first joyous hope was quickly checked. It was 
obvious that the Tanks were vulnerable, and that in bad, 
wet ground like that in Flanders they were apt to get 
bogged at the wrong time, and that there were not enough 
of them to kill the deadly menace of machine-gun fire, so 
that infantry had no magic shield to save them from it. 
There was not enough of them, that was one trouble. I 
remember more than a year ago sitting at the mess table 
with some Scottish officers — the Gordons — and one of them 
said, "If we had hundreds of Tanks we could finish the 
war. A dozen or two are no good. A score or two are 
no good. We want hundreds to smash down the German 
wire, to stamp out their machine-guns, and walk through 
their strong points." Some of his comrades laughed at him 
as a wild enthusiast on Tanks, and elsewhere there was for 
a time a sense of disappointment in the achievements of 
these things. 

They had bad luck. Five times out of six the ground 
was very difficult for them. Here and there, as in the 
fighting on the Scarpe after Arras, and even up in Flanders 
in the worst of weather, they did wonderful things, attack- 
ing and destroying blockhouses, routing out machine-gun 
nests, saving the lives of the infantry, but more of their 
bodies lay about the battlefields, and they were never in 
numbers enough to do the big thing which they seemed to 
promise on that first day of revelation. Now, in this 
battle round Cambrai they did the big thing, for on that 
day of November 20 it was their number and the skill and 
courage of their crews that made the gaps through the 
German wire and opened the way across the Hindenburg 
lines for infantry and cavalry, and afterwards routed out 
German machine-gunners who still defended their posi- 
tions. Ever since that day of surprise they have been 
fighting — in the attacks on Bourlon Wood and Bourlon 


village and Fontaine-Notre-Dame, and in the counter-at- 
tacks against Gouzeaucourt and Gonnelieu which followed 
the enemy's terrific onslaught to retake his lost ground. 

I have told some of the adventures of the Tank crews, 
but there are others to tell, and worth the telling, because 
these men have shown a daring and a courage and endur- 
ance which is more marvellous the more one knows of 
their difficulties and their dangers and their utter exhaustion 
of body when only their spirit was unbeaten. After the 
third day of battle I saw some of them coming home, and 
they had been in action for many hours of those days 
before they crawled back to this lair, where the dark forms 
of their machines looked very beast-like among their camp- 
fires, which flickered with a ruddy glare on their mud- 
cased flanks, so that it seemed a, nightmare to me, with the 
flash of shell-fire etching the outlines of the t,rees about 
them. One Tank was in action continuously, driving and 
fighting, for sixty-four hours — and when one knows, as I 
know, what a frightful physical strain it is on the crew, 
boxed up in that narrow space, jammed up against their 
engine, deafened by the noise of their own gun-fire, shaken 
and banged over rough ground, and surrounded by hostile 
troops and guns, it seems astounding that men could endure 
this so long. 

One young officer of the Tanks, one of those second-lieu- 
tenants of ours who have done so many heroic things in 
this war, was 400 yards ahead of the infantry when he 
reached the German trenches, and for an hour and a half 
after reaching that position his Tank was lashed by 
machine-gun fire so that one gunner was seriously wounded, 
and it was difficult to work the port-gun owing to splinters. 
At half -past ten that morning the Tank was hit direct 
by a field-gun shell from a battery near Flesquieres, which 
smashed up some of the machinery and put it out of action. 
But the Tank pilot and his crew were not put out of action. 
They got out of the disabled machine, dismounted their 
Lewis guns, and brought them into action from an old Ger- 


man communication trench, firing on the enemy who were 
still holding the village of Flesquieres. 

Other Tanks came up to the attack under fire of a field- 
gun worked, as we know now, by a German major, and the 
second-lieutenant of the disabled Tank directed them to a 
nest of machine-guns which were holding up our Seaforths. 
Afterwards he climbed on to the back of his own Tank so 
as to get a better field of fire for his Lewis gun. His crew 
remained in action with him, and when all their guns had 
become red-hot and jammed, and all their ammunition was 
exhausted, their officer withdrew them about twenty yards 
further back where the Scots were holding their line at the 
time, and this young pilot of Tanks took over the command 
of a company of these men as their captain was killed soon 
after his arrival, and remained with them until relieved by 
another officer. That episode reveals the high quality of 
courage of the young men who take our Tanks into action, 
but every day for a fortnight has been notable in the his- 
tory of the Tanks for acts of gallant and good service. 

In the attack on Graincourt village several Tanks were 
checked by the direct fire of two light field-guns which the 
enemy had brought forward, while the infantry were held 
up in the face of deadly machine-gun fire from the streets 
of Graincourt. Two Tanks worked round the village on 
each side, stamped out the machine-guns, and captured the 
field-guns so that the infantry could advance and take 
possession of the place. 

In the attacks on Bourlon Wood the Tanks advanced 
ahead of the infantry, destroying the enemy's machine-gun 
emplacements on the outskirts of Bourlon village, and after- 
wards, when part of this wood had been lost owing to the 
enemy's violent counter-attacks, they went inside the forest, 
fighting large bodies of German troops who tried to put 
them out of action by rifle and machine-gun fire. Many of 
these men were killed by the Tanks, who remained in the 
forest for four hours until darkness closed in upon them. 

It was a squadron of six Tanks that led the way into 


Anneux after a cavalry reconnaissance, and, after a long 
fight with enemy machine-gunners hidden in the northern 
edge of the village, cleared the way for the infantry. Many 
times during these actions the Tank pilots and crews had to 
get out under heavy fire to get their bearings, or to get 
going after being ditched, and more than one pilot and man 
went on driving and fighting after they had been wounded. 
In the counter-attacks of the last few days the Tanks ad- 
vanced upon the enemy without any advantage of sur- 
prise, and under the fire of field-guns laid against them at 
short range, and in these actions they have again proved 
their quality as fighting engines and fighting men. 

They are a little sensitive, these young men, to the comic 
descriptions we used to give of them when they were first 
seen, and when our words had to camouflage their real 
shape and structure. "Look here," said one of their of- 
ficers; "don't go calling the Tanks obscene monsters or 
ichthyosauri or pre-historic toads. It seems to make a joke 
of what, after all, is no joke." 

And I believe the commander of the Tanks Corps is 
anxious that it should be known that in his order of the 
day before battle he did not ask in a literal way that every 
Tank should do its damnedest — that was a breezy inter- 
pretation of his words — but, rather, pointed out more 
solemnly the greatness and honour of the task that lay ahead 
of them. 

Let us take the Tanks seriously, for inside their steel 
walls are the bodies and souls of men who are going out 
into battle with no light-heartedness, for it is a grim and 
deadly business, but with ideals of duty and endeavour 
which lead them to stern and terrible adventures, to enor- 
mous fatigues of body and spirit, and to many ugly places 
where, unless they have luck, they may be ditched for ever. 



The Heroes of the Twenty-Ninth Division 

December 8 
In shreds and patches, with things I have seen and things I 
have heard, I have tried from day to day to give something 
like a clear narrative of a thrilling chapter of history follow- 
ing the German assault on our lines on November 30, ten 
days after Sir Julian Byng's victory. There is still much 
to tell, and still here and there things that are obscure, be- 
cause no one man and no one group of men knows exactly 
everything that happened during the hours when the Ger- 
mans were inside our advanced lines, and small bodies of 
British soldiers were fighting separate and isolated actions, 
and other companies, led by brigadier-generals, regimental 
officers, or any one who had at that moment the gift of 
leadership and a passion of courage did acts of surpassing 
gallantry to check the enemy's advance and save us from 
disaster. I suppose all those adventures will never be told, 
but every day I hear more of them. I hear them in strange 
places, as, not many hours ago, when, in the tumult of 
war's traffic close to the lines, a friend of mine got off his 
horse and told me how he had gone into action on the after- 
noon, broke through the Germans with a little body of cav- 
alry, who galloped ten miles and then pushed patrols to 
Villers-Guislan, which was in the hands of the enemy. As 
they went over the ridge the enemy saw them and put 
shrapnel over them, but the leading patrol went on until it 
came under close machine-gun fire, and a very gallant of- 
ficer fell off his horse with a bullet through his badge, and 
other men fell. 

"They were 'grass cutting,' " said one of these officers, 
speaking of German machine-gunners, "and their shooting 
was fine." This patrol of cavalry went on, and got their 


hotchkiss guns into action against 800 of the enemy, who 
debouched from the sunken road. 

'They thought the whole British Army was on them," 
said the cavalry officer, "but there were only thirty of us, 
and we laughed when we saw 'em do a bunk, leaving some 
of their dead behind." 

While I was listening to this tale guns were firing over 
the ridge ahead of us, and a German aeroplane was hover- 
ing above watching our movement of men and horses, and 
"Archies" were shooting hard, and at the same time, not 
far away, a band was playing "The Wearin' o' the Green," 
and close to me an Indian soldier was chaunting the 
"Koran" to a number of other soldiers of his race squat- 
ting around him. It is all like a fantastic nightmare this 
war of ours, but in such scenes as this one hears the truth 
of great realities, straight simple stories of battle and of 
heroic things in the midst of tragedy and sometimes of 
men's weakness. 

Here in this message I will write more fully than I have 
done yet of the things that happened on November 30, and 
the days that followed, as I have gathered them, not only 
in a haphazard way, but from sources which admit of no 
doubt or error in their details. To know what happened, 
first one must understand that the right wing of our Cam- 
brai salient was held very thinly by battalions of the 55th 
Division who had mostly done some hard fighting already. 
I have given an account of what took place on the extreme 
right, and it helps to explain things elsewhere. The night 
before November 30 the Germans fired a large number of 
poison-gas shells into our villages of Ronssoy and Lempire 
and their neighbourhood, and officers reported that the 
"enemy is making faces at us." Then at dawn they put a 
violent bombardment on to the front lines. They were 
lines held to a certain extent by blocks of men at intervals, 
with gaps between, and the enemy, advancing suddenly in 
waves, penetrated simultaneously at several points on a 


sector of front where many were overwhelmed and sur- 

But other bodies of our men, Lancashire men of the 55th 
Division, including the King's Liverpools and the Liverpool 
Scottish, were refusing ground to the enemy, and put up a 
grim fight all day, which saved our extreme right from be- 
ing turned. One unit fell back in good order to three posts 
in its rear, and another unit held on to two positions west 
and south of Vendhuille. From one of these they coun- 
ter-attacked the enemy's left, and beat it back by furious 
fighting, and although they had set out of a narrow quarry, 
into which the enemy flung his shells, they defended the 
posts behind, and would not let the enemy pass all that day 
or all the next. Meanwhile the enemy had forced in the 
centre of our line, and was advancing on Villers-Guislan 
and Gouzeaucourt. But the gallant King's Liverpools 
stopped him abruptly south of Villers-Guislan by stubborn 
fighting round Vaucelette Farm and the beet factory on 
the road from Peizieres. They met the enemy in the open 
with rifle-fire and bayonets, flung him back from the beet- 
root factory each time he tried to advance, and balked his 
desperate efforts to get the farm. So was our right saved 
by these men. 

The centre had for a time been bent in, and exciting 
things were happening up by Villers-Guislan and Gouzeau- 
court, which had seemed to us so secure and remote from 
front-line perils until breakfast-time on that black Friday. 
Near Villers-Guislan a general had his headquarters. He 
had gone there after a visit to some other headquarters 
further south, and he was sleeping in his pyjamas when 
suddenly he was startled by the noise of rifle shots and 
machine-gunning. He rushed out and saw the enemy ad- 
vancing close, with open country before them. The gen- 
eral shouted to his orderlies and cooks and signallers, and 
other groups of men who were near his quarters. Collect- 
ing a small party of them who were able to seize their rifles, 
and still in pyjamas, he led them out to hold up the enemy's 


outposts. Every man except himself was killed, but he 
rallied more men, seventy of them, including a number of 
American railwaymen, and dragged up one field-gun, which 
he got into action at close range and fired with such deadly 
effect that the enemy retreated iooo yards before getting 
up supports. 

At Gouzeaucourt similar scenes were taking place. I 
have described some of them before, but I have now fuller 
knowledge of what happened. A general and his staff — 
of the 29th Division — were in the headquarters in a quarry, 
up the slope to the west of the village. In the village itself 
was a dressing-station among the ruins, with pioneers, la- 
bour parties, and other odd units. Outside the village were 
American and Canadian railway men, with their engines 
and truck trains bringing up rations. Early in the morn- 
ing the enemy began shelling round the quarry, and the 
gunner-general was badly hit in the knee. Thirty big shells 
fell very close, and at 8.45 rifle-fire was suddenly heard at 
close range from Villers-Guislan. A staff-officer went up 
the steps of the dug-out in the quarry and came down to 
report to the general that the Germans were advancing 
over the ridge. The general was perfectly calm, as all who 
know this gallant and knightly man may well imagine. 
From among signallers, runners, and servants he collected 
a number of men who could use their rifles, and sent them 
up to the ridge as a covering party, then ordered the rest 
of the personnel, including dispatch riders, to retire to 
Gouzeaucourt. The Germans were quite close to his head- 
quarters now, but, as his officers tell me, he showed no kind 
of hurry as far as his own safety was involved, and at last 
walked very quietly with his A.D.C. and other officers out 
of the quarry. They had to run the gauntlet of a 5.9 bar- 
rage and rifle fire at 400 yards, but the general walked with 
his head erect, and with his usual quiet dignity. They 
had to go down the slope and up again to Gouzeaucourt, 
and at the bottom of the slope was a railway engine and 
trucks, halted on the level-crossing. This caused delay, and 


held up the dispatch-riders so that several of them were 
killed, but the general and his staff passed through safely 
when the engine was shunted back, and afterwards got away 
from Gouzeaucourt before the enemy came in. 

I have described the scene round the dressing-station 
when the staff was awakened by shots, and one of them ran 
from his bath with a towel round his body, but the end of 
the story has not yet been told. When the Germans came 
in they were not in great numbers for some time, and took 
no violent measures against their prisoners. The hospital 
staff was allowed to go on working, a few wounded being 
brought to them, and a sentry was put over the entrance 
to their dug-outs. He seemed a nice fellow, that young 
Fritz who walked up and down with fixed bayonet, so nice 
that the doctors felt sorry for him on such a cold morning, 
and sent up word to say they would be glad to give him a 
cup of tea, fresh made and piping hot. So there was no 
sentry on the door, and one by one the orderlies and others 
went through that door and away to liberty again, if they 
had the luck to dodge the German riflemen among the ruins. 

At this time three visitors came to Gouzeaucourt and 
were surprised by what they found — in fact, they had been 
surprised for some time past. They were three R.A.M.C. 
men off duty, who had borrowed a car and set off as tour- 
ists to see the battle-fields. They got as far as Graincourt 
when they heard bullets whistling about them. "Very care- 
less," they thought. "Our Tommies should really not shoot 
so wildly all over the place." "Silly asses !" they said, when 
one of them was hit through the hat. They turned the 
car about and came to Gouzeaucourt, and on the road were 
amazed to see a German gunner with a light field-gun. 
The driver was not an R.A.M.C. man, but he had no weapon 
of offence except his motor-car, so he ran over the enemy 
and hurt him badly. The first impulse of these R.A.M.C. 
men was to render first aid, but the bullets whizzing past 
their heads checked philanthropy, and they drove away at 
a pace exceeding the speed limit. That story has an ele- 


ment of comedy in it, but there is only tragedy and heroism 
in what I have now to tell — the heroism of those men of 
the glorious 29th Division who defended Masnieres and 
Marcoing until many of them were dead and wounded, and 
who, by very great valour and self-sacrifice in dreadful 
hours, stopped by their own bodies the full tide of the Ger- 
man onrush. The 86th Brigade of the 29th Division were 
then holding Masnieres, with the Middlesex Regiment on 
the right and the Lancashire Fusiliers on the left. In sup- 
port at the sugar factory, east of the village, were the Royal 
Fusiliers, and the Guernsey Light Infantry were in the vil- 
lage itself as supporting troops. The 87th Brigade of this 
Division were holding the Cambrai road from the Cha- 
teau Talmas to the north of Marcoing, with the Inniskill- 
ings on the right, the Border Regiment on the left, and 
the South Wales Borderers in support. The King's Own 
Scottish Borderers and the 88th Brigade were in divisional 
reserve in Marcoing. 

At five o'clock on the morning of November 30 a gun- 
ner officer reported that his batteries had been heavily 
shelled during the night, and all the troops were ordered to 
be on the alert, and the Royal Fusiliers and Guernsey Light 
Infantry stood to at alarm posts and in the catacombs be- 
low Masnieres. The enemy shelled our lines, and at eight 
o'clock, in spite of the mist, observers saw his men moving 
at Crevecceur. It was not till forty minutes afterwards that 
the enemy were reported advancing, and some of our men 
falling back under their pressure of overwhelming num- 
bers, so that their wave of field-grey men were flowing up 
close to Masnieres and Marcoing. Two companies of the 
Guernseys were sent across the canal to make a defensive 
flank at Les Rues Vertes, the southern suburb of Mas- 
nieres, while the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers and the 16th Mid- 
dlesex attacked. It was when the enemy had already 
thrust into these streets that a certain staff captain came to 
lead the defence, with such a flame of passion in him that 
he fired all the men in his company. He is not a very 


young man, like so many officers, but of middle age, and 
he has a little daughter at home hurt by German bombs, 
so that this memory does not make him like his enemy. 
He happened to be at the headquarters south of Marcoing 
that morning, and when he went up to a dump saw Germans 
standing guard over it. He killed one of these men with 
a blow from his walking-stick, and put the others to flight. 
Then, seeing the situation, he collected his servants, sig- 
nallers and runners, and, followed by two companies of 
Guernsey Light Infantry, chased the enemy out of Les 
Rues Vertes, where many were killed in house-to-house 
fighting. Masnieres was then all clear of the enemy except 
for a machine-gun which was causing casualties among our 
men. The staff captain had already had four orderlies 
killed beside him, but now, with another, he rushed the 
gun. The fifth orderly was also killed, but with a revolver 
in each hand the officer shot the crew of eight Germans. 
Then he collected more men as new outposts of the enemy 
forced their way into Les Rues Vertes, and again he cleared 
the village of them after fierce fighting. By this time the 
staff captain had been wounded in the leg, but he remained 
on duty till the following morning, when he moved into 
Marcoing. By his heroic conduct this officer saved a whole 
brigade, if not a division. 

Meanwhile the ist Lancashire Fusiliers and 16th Middle- 
sex were beating back heavy attacks, three times repeated, 
between Rumilly and the Cambrai road, and the enemy was 
never able to come nearer than ioo yards, and was repulsed 
with great slaughter by machine-gun, trench-mortar, and 
rifle-fire. In a sunken road south of Masnieres where the 
enemy kept assembling, there was a massacre of Germans 
under trench-mortar fire commanded by an officer who fired 
some 300 shells into that ditch. Many of them had been 
killed earlier in the morning in that neighbourhood south 
of Masnieres by an officer of artillery and his gunners, who 
found themselves isolated and in advance of our infantry, 
with the enemy advancing in waves over the ridge of Creve- 


coeur. For an hour and a half he kept his guns in action, 
firing at close range with open sights on the German storm 
troops, on the cavalry crossing over the canal bridges in 
column of route, and on all German traffic of assault, so 
that his gunners never had such targets and inflicted fright- 
ful casualties. But they could not stop the tide of men 
and horses and guns, and at last, when the foremost waves 
were close upon him, the officer ordered his men — fifty of 
them were casualties — to retire with their breach-locks and 
abandon the guns. 

In Masnieres and Marcoing dusk crept down the broken 
streets, but still the enemy attacked. At four o'clock he 
attacked Masnieres on three sides, but was beaten off. At 
ten minutes past five he made another effort against Les 
Rues Vertes, but was again repulsed with slaughter. Then 
he opened a terrible bombardment from three sides, and it 
was clear to the officer commanding these men at Masnieres 
that he could hardly hold out twenty-four hours, owing to 
the exhaustion and casualties of his men, who were hun- 
gry and tired, but with no thought of surrender. 

The officer commanding the trench-mortars had ex- 
hausted all his ammunition and was severely wounded, and 
at this time the German 77's were firing from three sides 
and enfilading our men severely. The trench-mortars were 
destroyed, and an officer led a party of infantry to beat 
off another attack on Les Rues Vertes, while orders were 
issued for all the men to hold on at all costs. They held. 

Not an inch of ground had been lost by the heroic bat- 
talions of Guernseys, Middlesex men, and Lancashire 
Fusiliers when night came on. By this time they had re- 
ceived more ammunition from a brigade transport officer, 
who arrived with pack-mules in Masnieres after a perilous 
journey under fire. 

That night the 16th Middlesex, the old "Die-hards/' who 
had fought all through the day, repelling attack after at- 
tack as the enemy tried to force the passage of the canal, 
had only weak forces left, and still expected frc 


upon them as soon as the sky should lighten for another 

A colonel was the hero of the defence. In the morning, 
with the staff of his battalion headquarters, those orderlies 
and signallers who went into the fighting-line that day in 
any part of the field, he held the lock over the canal south 
of the sugar factory at Masnieres — which the enemy tried 
to force by bloody fighting — until he was relieved by the 
Royal Fusiliers, and then directed the defence of his bat- 
talion of Middlesex with a courage that his officers and 
men cannot praise too much. A bullet struck him in the 
right eye, and wounded him so badly that for a time he 
was blind in both eyes, with a bandage over them. But 
this officer, the brother of Forbes-Robertson, who once 
played in The Light that Failed, did not relinquish his com- 
mand nor show any dimming of that spirit which was like 
a light among his men. He told an orderly to lead him by 
the hand to the front line held by his men, and so guided 
he found his way to them, and spoke fine thrilling words to 
them, so that they were greatly encouraged to fight on. 
Then he got into touch with the men of the Hampshire 
Regiment and South Wales Borderers, who were on his 
right, and told them that his men were still holding their 
line so that the situation might yet be saved. The night 
passed, and at 7.15 next morning there was a heavy bom- 
bardment, followed by an attack in eight waves by Ger- 
man infantry on the north side of the canal, where they 
drove in the outpost established in Mon Plaisir Farm, 700 
yards from the canal lock below the sugar factory, and 
they were beaten back elsewhere with severe losses. 

In the sugar factory were four of our machine-guns, and 
as the dense lines of Germans tried to force the passage of 
the canal to Les Rues Vertes they were swept by the fire 
of these weapons, and 500 of them were drowned at this 
point in the canal. All day long the German Red Cross 
were busy in this neighbourhood rescuing their wounded. 
... At ten o'clock the enemy were reported advancing in 


rushes in the neighbourhood of Mon Plaisir, and at that 
time two German areoplanes flew over Masnieres and 
dropped red lights, and there followed an intense bombard- 
ment for an hour and a quarter, so that from the roof of 
the chateau where the general stood nothing could be seen 
but red dust, and all the town was wrecked. 

Tire general left the chateau when the enemy was on the 
canal bridge and had rushed the streets of Les Rues Vertes. 
He went along the canal bank, and found that for the first 
time the men were shaken, and were firing wildly without 
full effect. He spoke to them in words used by an Amer- 
ican general long ago in history : "Do not fire until you 
see the whites of your enemy's eyes. ,, 

The men remained calm, and a platoon were sent to hold 
the lock bridge. An officer organized a bridgehead de- 
fence, and, with his orderly and six men, beat back the 
enemy, taking five of them prisoners on our side of the 
canal. This officer fired all his revolver ammunition, and 
then took a German rifle and went after the enemy. All 
round this bridgehead there was savage fighting by bomb- 
ing parties, and in the melee it was difficult to distinguish 
friend from foe, but eighty prisoners were captured among 
300 who attacked with machine-guns. 

South of Les Rues Vertes other bodies of our troops, 
including the South Wales Borderers and King's Own 
Scottish Borderers, held the gap on the right, and fought 
very fiercely to clear the enemy out of the sunken roads 
running south of Masnieres and Marcoing, and to hold up 
the hostile tide which was flowing westwards. 

At 7.30 on the night of December 1, a staff officer made 
his way into Masnieres, and arranged the details for a with- 
drawal from that town, which was held by exhausted, fam- 
ished men, with many wounded in cellars, and groups of 
prisoners brought in during the day. Every cellar was 
searched, and the prisoners voluntarily helped to carry the 
wounded out on doors and boards, so that not one was left 
behind. All papers were destroyed, and all the ammuni- 


tion which could not be carried away was destroyed. Noth- 
ing of any value to the enemy remained, and all this was 
done without sound, in dead silence. The bridgehead de- 
fences were withdrawn last, and Masnieres was left so 
quietly that for many hours next day the enemy bombarded 
it, believing our troops to be still there. On December 3 
the enemy's pressure increased round Marcoing, and there 
was heavy fighting in the peninsula in the northern bend of 
the canal, and south of that. Then our men left Marcoing, 
and the last man in the town was a brigadier, who went 
through its deserted streets at night and did not meet a sin- 
gle living man, though many dead. An officer of the 
Headquarters Staff remained at the bridgehead and blew it 
up, and on Tuesday, December 4, our organized retire- 
ment was made to our present line of defence. 

Our withdrawal on the left by Mceuvres and the line 
coming down from Bourlon Wood to the Canal du Nord 
was made after a gallant bit of work by our men of the 
2nd Division in this difficult part of the line, under con- 
stant fire, when they actually pushed forward their line 
closer to Bourlon village, so denying the enemy observa- 
tion of our ground south and south-east. In doing so they 
came across two 3-inch guns and two field-guns abandoned 
by the enemy after his repulse on November 30, and these 
were blown up by our men. On the canal bank we had a 
forward post from which we could enfilade the enemy in 
Bourlon village with machine-gun fire, and on the day of 
his big attack, which failed so disastrously for him on this 
northern side of the salient, even our wounded men begged 
to stay in order not to miss their share in repulsing the 
enemy. They were paying him back for many things suf- 
fered. In those Hindenburg lines near Mceuvres our men 
had suffered under fierce shell-fire, and on the canal bank 
they had been bombed and trench-mortared, and on the 
left of Mceuvres and in and out of the village there had 
been long and bloody fighting. Before the organized with- 
drawal from this battle-ground the dug-outs with which 


the ground was honey-combed were blown up, and all ma- 
terial was removed. It was a point of honour with each 
man to bring away as much as he could carry, and they 
staggered back in the darkness under monstrous voluntary 
loads. Since then, on our new line of defence, there have 
been very few casualties, and there is at least this compensa- 
tion for the loss of some ground — that it means a great 
saving of life, and gives us strong defensive positions which 
the enemy can only attack at high cost to himself. 



The Peace of the Snow 

January 8, 191 8 
There is a blizzard of snow on the Western Front, and 
the melting ice of yesterday has hardened again and is cov- 
ered deep. It is as heavy a snowstorm as I have seen since 
the winter of 1914 in France, and there is a wild wind, 
which comes moaning and whining across the fields with a 
ghostly plaint, crying round the gables of old houses and 
wailing through the bare trees, which are all white again. 
It is sweeping the surface of the snow-fields with invisible 
brooms as though white witches were dancing there and 
raising a whirl of flakes in their mad mazurka. Every 
now and then the wind flings itself with a shriek against 
the doors of the barns or the warped windows of one old 
chateau I know, where a number of officers are as snow- 
bound as if they were in winter quarters on the Island of 
Kerguelen, and all the bolts are rattled as though some 
angry spirit wanted to come in where they sit round a log 
fire, saying "What a life!" after long intervals of silence 
and unutterable thoughts. Outside the snow has drifted 
across the roads, and a flurry of flakes is following the 
dispatch-riders, who must get somehow between one head- 
quarters and another. I met one on the road this morn- 
ing, and he looked like Father-Christmas in war time, with 



an ermine mantle on his back and a white crown on his 
head, and his dispatch-bag plastered with snow, and every 
spoke of his motor-cycle thick with it. A lonely camp he 
passed was like a scene in Northern China, or what I should 
imagine it to be, and among the snow-covered sheds a num- 
ber of Chinese labourers — who, by the oddest freak of fate, 
have come to the edge of this Western war — were stand- 
ing about snow-clad above their overalls and blankets, smil- 
ing in their sphinx-like way into the face of the blizzard. 
.Lorry columns went ploughing through the snowdrifts to 
the ration dumps, and soldiers became snow-sweepers to 
clear the way of the roads, and liked their job so that they 
were whistling to the tune of the wind which whipped the 
blood to their cheeks. 

There is not much war in progress except in the air, 
where on both sides planes are out trying to get photographs 
of the enemy's lines, because, though the snow hides some 
things, it tells many secrets where it has melted above the 
dug-outs, and where tracks of feet go up to certain places, 
and where guns have been hidden by artful camouflage. 
So up in the air war goes on, where our flying fellows find 
it hard to get the touch of their machine-guns because an, 
ungloved hand is like a block of ice, but where every day 
they challenge the enemy to single combat or squadron en- 
counters, and lately have had the luck to drive many of 
them down. Broken aeroplanes look like dead blackbirds 
on the snow-fields as I saw them a year ago on the Somme 
battlefields, before the German retreat. 

On the ground war has called a truce because of the snow, 
except for bursts of artillery fire on both sides, as a demon- 
stration of the mighty power of destruction which is wait- 
ing there on our side and theirs for the call to battle when 
the spring comes. But this new fall of snow means a 
longer respite. Nature has arranged an armistice in her 
white palace of peace, and the fighting men are standing to 
and waiting with their rifles ready, but inactive. For a 
time the war seems to have passed out of the hands of the 


armies into those of the statesmen, and powers are at work 
greater than high explosives, if ideas and the psychology 
of nations and the stress of peoples have any force in the 
decisions of destiny. Out here the armies in the field are 
waiting for those decisions which one way or the other will 
hold the fate of thousands of men. The newspapers that 
come out to the dug-outs and the billets, and the wireless 
that gives the first clue of what is being said by our states- 
men and the enemy's, provide the conversation which goes 
on during the day and night wherever two soldiers have a 
chance to talk, or the thoughts that go round and round 
the men's heads when they are alone and silent. 

The armies never say a word outside those private con- 
versations in holes in the ground and in draughty barns, 
where they sleep on straw, or in the billets behind the lines. 
They are as silent as death in the great world-discussion 
of war aims and peace terms, although it is their lives which 
hang in the balance and their courage which will win what- 
ever is won. They are without expression but not with- 
out interest in this crisis of thought which has come out 
of the agonies of great peoples and great armies, and so, 
while there is a quiet time in the snow, the souls of many 
thousands of men are filled with the drama of the head- 
lines in the papers of the day before yesterday, and in their 
hearts is the question : "What shall we read the day after 

Is it not natural that they should be more eager for 
news than the people who get their papers at the breakfast 
tables at home? For the headlines that will be printed 
during the next few weeks will tell the men what battles 
must be fought by them, when the snow melts and the 
thaw dries, or what has been won or what lost by all they 
— these fighting men of ours — have done and suffered. 

January io 
In spite of a thaw last night, after another heavy bliz- 
zard, we are still deep in snow on this Western Front, and 


all the battle-fields are under a white shroud, so that their 
familiar landmarks, their rags and tatters of ruin, their 
old trenches, and new wire, their unexploded shells, and 
all their shell-craters, are covered up and made smooth as 
a bed of down. They are strangely and uncannily quiet 
in most part of the line, for the hush of the snow seems to 
have fallen on the war, and even the guns are silent in most 
sectors, because there is poor visibility for observation 
posts or aeroplanes through the whirl of flakes. 

This spell of silence was broken two mornings ago, east 
of Bullecourt, by the sudden hostile attack reported by the 
Commander-in-Chief, which was something more than a 
raid, though not on a big scale. The enemy bombarded 
our trenches before the light of day with high explosives 
and gas, and at about half-past six three parties of Bava- 
rians, who had been lying out in No Man's Land, advanced 
on our front line, from which some of our men no doubt 
had been withdrawn from the immediate area of shell-fire, 
which came as a creeping barrage before the attack. Two 
of the enemy parties were carrying flammenwerfer, those 
flame-jet machines which take two men to work and send 
out a thirty-foot flame as fierce as a bunsen burner — a long 
scarlet tongue of fire which licks up the life of a man at 
one touch. It is a terrifying thing to men who see it for 
the first time or who have not been trained how to avoid 
its menace, but most of our men have seen demonstrations 
of it and know how to deal with it. In this case our front 
line near Bullecourt was for a time entered, and the Bava- 
rians used our trench as cover from the white nakedness 
of No Man's Land. An immediate counter-attack killed 
some of them, but the others stayed on until the middle of 
the morning. At half-past eleven it was snowing hard, 
and the footsteps of the men who had come across No 
Man's Land were filled up and blotted out. f Some red 
splodges in front of our wire were made white again. 
Through the heavy snowflakes our second counter-attack 
was delivered, and this time the Bavarians were turned out 


of the ground in which they had been unwelcome visitors. 
Nearly a score of unwounded men remained in our hands 
and a few wounded. It was a foolish adventure as far as 
the enemy was concerned, and designed by some battalion 
commander to win the favour of Headquarters at the ex- 
pense of his men's lives. This, and a few small raids on 
each side, are the only interruptions of the quietude of the 
infantry in their snow-bound trenches. 

Yesterday I went to see the battlefields round Lens 
under the snow, and was startled by the deathly silence of 
them and the white peace of them. Only very rarely there 
was the sullen bark of a gun, short and gruff in the still 
air, and there was no sign of life, no look of life, in that 
mining city whose broken roofs were all white under the 
snow, or in the suburbs of Lievin, where our men live, or 
in the German lines which stretch away from Sallaumines. 
The old trenches on the way to them were filled with snow, 
and the fields where thousands of men have fought and 
died, French as well as English, were white and glisten- 
ing, and all their litter of destruction was hidden. It was 
difficult going, for the slopes were covered with ice, and 
one slipped and fell a score of times, and having slid down 
into an old trench it was absurdly hard to get on the other 
side. The snow had camouflaged the shell-craters, which 
were filled with ice, so that what looked like solid ground 
was a covered hole into which one fell deep. Below the 
snow were the white bones of men, French soldier boys who 
died on this ground three years ago, and the old barbed 
wire which had guarded their front line, the broken strands 
of it, was thickly furred with frost. 

The ruins behind our lines look more romantic under 
snow than when their bricks are bare and their broken 
rafters are black. Arras, into which I went yesterday, is 
as beautiful as a dream-picture, with a cold, white sadness 
in its desolate and destroyed streets. The snow takes 
away some of the brutality of its mutilation, and all its 
broken houses and shell-pierced roofs, and the stone carv- 


ings on buildings which once belonged to the glory of the 
French Renaissance are haunting in their effect upon one's 
vision with this whiteness on them. Arras is like a stage- 
picture of war in a mediaeval city, and the few soldiers who 
pass down its lonely ways seem to belong to that old-world 
scene, for in their hairy coats — their stink-coats as they 
call them — and in their steel hats to which the snowflakes 
cling, they might be the English men-at-arms who fought 
with King Harry at Agincourt 500 years ago. Through 
the snow-storm yesterday our men went up to the lines, 
with a scrunch of feet on the soft tracks and the whirling 
flakes so thick about them that they were like white ghosts. 
Gunners brought long teams of mules down to the wagon- 
lines. The poor beasts looked very cold, and each man 
bent his head sideways to the blizzard, and the breast of 
his leather tunic was thickly covered as though with fleece, 
and there was a wreath of snow about the rim of his steel 
hat. These are the white pictures of our winter warfare, 
and they are worth describing, because they hold the drama 
of a million men's lives. 

January 13 
It is six weeks since the German counter-attacks at Cam- 
brai, two months since our capture of Passchendaele, and 
the lines have been quiet since then under the heavy snow, 
except for bursts of gun-fire and night raids, and that 
flame assault last week. Even in the line the tumult of the 
fighting months has died down into quiet days and nights, 
with only odd moments of savage shelling as a reminder 
that the devil is not yet dead, so that our men up there 
have not too bad a time. Some of them I know — those 
Gordons of whom I have given glimpses up and down the 
roads of war — had quite a good time on Hogmanay night 
within 400 yards of the enemy. They sent me an invita- 
tion, but I had not the luck to be there, and it was one of 
their officers who described the scene to me. In some caves 
quarried deep below the trenches and lighted with electric 


lamps — there was a horrid moment when the engine stopped 
working and threatened to plunge them all in darkness — 
they had a feast night, and the spirit of Scotland moved 
among them and lived in their songs and speeches, with 
the memory of gallant comrades who had been with them 
a year ago and are no longer with them. The pipers came 
into the caves, and their music filled these rocky vaults with 
wild sound, very haunting in its call to Scottish hearts; but 
it was imprisoned below ground and did not reach the 
German lines. The little dim light glowed on the steel 
helmets of the Gordons and made fantastic shadows on the 
walls as the pipers marched up and down, and shone in 
the eyes of the officers and men as they sipped hot rum 
punch and felt its warmth in their hearts. Four officers 
who had fought through the Somme together — there are 
only four now of those who held the lines at Martinpuich 
— raised their glasses to each other and toasted the colonel, 
who thinks of them from afar, waiting for a wound to heal 
in his lung, and yearning to come out again because though 
he hates war he loves his battalion. He is the Georgian 
gentleman who has appeared as a heroic figure in some of 
my sketches, and one day he will reappear and the pipes 
will play him back with the march tune of his own clan. 

Up in the line there was a pint of hot cocoa every night 
dispensed from a Y.M.C.A. dug-out by a great-hearted 
soul who once wrote books and plays which all the world 
knows, and now finds happiness for a wounded heart in 
serving our soldiers in that danger zone. He had to bor- 
row a steel hat and a gasbag to go up to a place which he 
says smells strongly of hell. But he had no need to borrow 
a soldier's courage. 

Yesterday I met the Gordons in their billets, and took 
tea in their mess with a score or so of officers at a long 
table in an old house which stands undamaged in a ruined 
town. That was a good picture, not without the romance 
of history in it. If I were a painter, instead of a journey- 
man of words, I should love to get the colour of it down 


on canvas, with the faces of those Scots in the candle-light 
and the firelight, in that old brown panelled room, with its 
broken bits of gilding and its high-backed chairs. The 
officers of the Scottish archers who were the bodyguard 
of Louis XI, might have sat in such a room as this in this 
very town, and I think the faces of these mediaeval sol- 
diers would have been like those I saw round the table 
yesterday — clean-cut, brown, and hard, with that steady 
look in the eyes which comes to men who have stared into 
the face of death. 

"What do you think of the prospects?'* I asked honest 
John, who has got wisdom in his hard pate. 

"We're waiting for the Boche to show his hand," he 
said, "and we're ready for him. It seems likely that he 
will try to break our lines, but if he couldn't do it before 
when he had ten to one, how can he hope to do it now 
when it will be man for man and gun for gun? We shall 
hold him all right." 

That is the faith of all our men. They are not afraid 
of this menace of masses of men and guns which may be 
brought against us if the enemy's threat is fulfilled. They 
are sure of their defensive strength, sure of our artillery, 
sure of their own courage, and they believe that however 
great the enemy's assault it will be smashed with great 
slaughter. So their faith is not shaken, although they 
know better than all others that when this year's fighting 
begins it will be ferocious. They are waiting for the ene- 
my's challenge to the struggle which may decide the fate 
of the world. They are waiting now for the arena to be 
cleared of snow and for the roads leading up to it to harden 
after the thaw that has now set in. For a few days they 
looked to the likelihood of some other kind of settlement 
by statesmen rather than by soldiers, by ideas rather than 
by high expolsives, but now the enemy seems to want war 
again instead of peace, and our men are ready to give him 
all he wants if it is for slaughter that he asks. If the 
enemy presses his challenge on this Western Front I be- 


lieve that there will be greater slaughter than there has 
ever been in this war, though blood has flowed in rivers. 

January 16 
The other night I went to the Theatre Royal of the West- 
ern Front. Robinson Crusoe was on the bill, as performed 
by some of His Majesty's Players, who wear kilts when 
they are not in fancy dress, and belong to a division with 
whom the enemy is most intimately acquainted. 

The Theatre Royal of the Western Front is a famous 
and distinguished house, though slightly in need of decora- 
tion and repairs owing to the ventilation of its roof by 
shell-fire — for these little accidents will happen even in 
war time. But it presented a brilliant aspect the other 
night, and was quite an historic scene. In the "royal box," 
with its tattered brocade and tarnished gilding, there was a 
party of generals and staff officers, and the dress circle was 
filled with regimental officers who a week or two ago were 
staring at snow scenes in No Man's Land, and saying "A 
merry Christmas — I don't think." 

The stalls were crowded with men of many battalions, 
English, Scottish, and Irish, gunners and engineers and 
signallers and machine-gun companies. But what was 
most thrilling in the scene was the presence of no fewer 
than two ladies in the stage box, sitting on either side of a 
gallant officer in his stink-coat, or hairy. They were real 
ladies, and not soldiers in disguise, to give an extra touch 
of splendour to the scene. For three years and more they 
had been living underground, coming up for light and 
air between storms of high explosives, but now they had 
put on evening dress, and looked like dowager duchesses at 
Covent Garden after a robbery of their jewels. It was very 
pleasant to have them there, and as they could not under- 
stand a word of the performance there was no need for 
the funny men to restrain the exuberance of their humour, 
which was very convenient. Down below the footlights 
the stringed orchestra played delightfully, and a fellow in 


the corner with the tenor drums had a number of subsidi- 
ary instruments for ragtime effects which thrilled the 
house, especially when he made a whole choir of birds sing 
to a solo by Robinson Crusoe, with background of palm- 
trees and sun-splashed islands, painted by a non-commis- 
sioned officer with beauty in his brush. 

Robinson Crusoe was a one-pip man who deserves 
crossed swords for the amount of pleasure he has given to 
great numbers of men by training his company to fight the 
enemy of depression. Polly Perkins with her rosebud 
mouth and coy ways was as pretty a child as you may find 
in any company of kilted men after slight alterations by 
the make-up expert, and Mrs. Crusoe, who comes from 
Glasgow, with striped stockings and strong accent and a 
weakness for unsweetened gin, had a sense of humour 
which would bring a smile to the face of a German colonel 
in a prisoners' cage — which is not easy. 

I am bound to say, however, with due acknowledgments 
to two funny sailormen and Man Friday and a young sea- 
man with a voice like the west wind in a song by Shelley, 
that my fancy was particularly taken by a comedian with 
a face of most whimsical variety. He had strange mirth- 
provoking gestures, and a sense of life's little ironies in 
war time so sharp that it cut the ground beneath one's feet. 
He is a man of distinguished family, and has as his crest 
four sergeant-majors rampant on a field of as you were. 
The audience of soldiers— men just out of the line — roared 
with laughter for two hours, and that is as good for them 
as a rum ration on a cold night in the trenches, and more 
lasting in effect. 

After the theatre I went to dinner with the same crowd 
that celebrated Hogmanay night in the caves 400 yards 
from the German line. They have made me an honorary 
member of their mess, and I have had no greater honour. 
It was a great dinner. The Germans were 400 yards away 
from the pipes on Hogmanay night, and I was only three 
inches away when nine tall and proper men with the pipes 


flung across their shoulders came marching in and stood be- 
hind the long table, where thirty officers sat in the old pan- 
elled room. It was stirring music, a little alarming to the 
ears at first until a Saxon got quite used to it, but very 
glorious, and filled with the heroic spirit of Scotland, with 
the haunting memories of many gallant ghosts, and the bad- 
ness of old far-off times. The Scottish officers around me, 
with the lamplight on their faces and shadows about them 
in this room, gave shrill cries and applauded after each 
march and each strathspey. Then a glass of whisky was 
given to the pipe-major, and he raised it high and wished 
good health to his officer in Gaelic, which I can't spell. 
After that there were Highland reels, danced to the rip- 
pling notes of a clarionet played by an officer who had the 
greatest endurance in wind-power of any man I have ever 
met. I watched that eightsome with envy because of its 
spirit and vitality and joyousness as danced by officers, who 
put their souls into it and challenged each other with wild 
barbaric cries, and with a shining light in their eyes, 
though there was only one candle in the room, and the 
panelled walls seemed to recede from us into the shadow- 

These men are the fighting men. They are waiting, like 
hundreds of thousands more, for the fate of this year to 
declare its hand and for new battles to begin. Meanwhile 
they are glad of the rest behind the lines, and fill every hour 
of it with as much fun as they can grab out of the luck 
of life. 


The Message of Spring 

January 31 
We are still waiting on the Western Front — waiting for 
the spring to come and waiting for orders which in this 
new year of war will decide the fate of the world in some 
way by blood or by peace. But no direct challenge comes. 


The guns, which are the modern heralds of battle, have 
not roared out their summons. In the enemy's camp, that 
vast camp of Central Europe where the councils of war 
are surrounded by people crying for bread and peace, an- 
gry now as well as agonized, there seems to be hesitation 
and delay, as though the generals were afraid of giving 
the word which, if it comes, will hurl the last reserves of 
their manhood into the dice-box of this gambler's throw 
with fate. 

So there is a stand to of our armies in the field. All 
along the lines our men are ready and waiting. Their 
rifles are on the fire-steps, and their machine-guns are clean. 
The gunners will be quick to hear those words, "Prepare 
for action!" which come before a battle. But now it is 
quiet along the line, and there is only the noise of single 
rounds from howitzers shooting at some special target, or 
from a long-range gun reaching out to some place far be- 
hind the German lines, or a sudden gust of fury from a 
battery of field-guns slashing into the silence of the battle- 
fields, awaking the slumbering devils of war, and then, 
after ten minutes of tumult, obeying the order of "Cease 
fire!" from some young officer with two pips on his shoul- 
der. So it was along one sector of the Front yesterday. 
Not for a year have I known so great a hush over the lines. 
I could see the enemy's trenches winding in a white, snaky 
way over the slope, and the old city of St.-Quentin, where 
he lives in vaults and tunnels. I saw the high walls of the 
cathedral scarred by shell-fire, and houses with broken 
roofs, and the sunlight caught a glass roof or a window- 
pane which, by some freak of luck, had not been smashed, 
and made it shine like a flame. On the right one gun fired 
with steady strokes that hammered into the silence every 
minute to the tick. It was one of our guns, and there was 
no answer. 

It was all of a sudden that a kind of toy battle opened, 
disturbing this quietude by a snapping and barking of 
small shells and machine-gun fire. It was when two hos- 


tile aeroplanes came overhead and two of ours passed them 
in a sky that was blue and cloudless above the mist. One 
of our men was the first to declare war. He flew over St- 
Ouentin, and a sudden, flat, thudding explosion there was 
proof that he had dropped a bomb. He circled back, and 
instantly the German Archies opened fire on him, and little 
black puffs pursued him as their shrapnel burst. Then the 
German planes came out and our Archies flung a barrage in 
their way, and our shrapnel dotted the sky with white puff 
balls. From the slopes where the German trenches wound 
snakily and from folds in the earth on our side of the lines, 
where I had seen no sign of life when I passed, there began 
a chattering conversation of machine-gun fire. It was like 
a duet on kettle-drums. All this fuss travelled down the 
lines as the aeroplanes went their way, and it was as though 
queer beasts who had been sleeping in the folds of the earth 
on this quiet afternoon had been aroused, as the dogs of a 
village join in the chorus of yapping when a stranger comes 
by. Then it was silent again except for the gun on the 
right, which still plugged away every minute to the tick. 
There seems no life on the battlefields, no human being in 
this solitude, but below ground everywhere there are good 
fellows of ours, friends of mine and yours, very much 
alive, though hidden in their earth holes. One cannot find 
them without a guide unless by accident, but a friendly soul 
who knows the ground will suddenly drop down into a ditch 
and say, "Let's look in at Brigade Headquarters," or "Let's 
see what the Battalion Headquarters can do in the way of 
a drink," or "Dear old Charlie is not a hundred yards away 
from here." . . . The Brigade Headquarters is glad to see 
a visitor from the outer world. The battalion officers are 
glad to welcome you in their dug-outs if you have the pass- 
word of good-fellowship. "Dear old Charlies" will give 
you his philosophy on war and life as it is viewed from the 
angle of a hole in the ground, fitted up with deal shelves, 
a wire bed, and a wooden bench. 

Into such a ditch I went yesterday, and met some very 


gallant gentlemen, who make the best out of life below 
ground, and remember all the funny stories they heard when 
last on leave, and ask for news of London, like men who 
have been long shipwrecked on a desert island. These 
troglodytes are merry grigs as a rule, with a sense of 
irony which finds the weak spots in the armour of the 
world's conceit. As truth tellers, hiding nothing and strip- 
ping life bare of its wraps and rags, you cannot meet their 
like, and out of these trenches and these dug-outs there will 
come, I think, a new philosophy. Meanwhile, they are 
waiting for the next act in this drama of war, ready to face 
it with steady eyes, whatever its frightfulness. 

February 8 
The hush before the storm. Here and there along our 
front for an hour or two of uproar the enemy's guns are 
flinging over shell-fire, very fierce and concentrated while 
it lasts, and our guns are answering or shooting before the 
challenge with the same sudden gusts of fury. But there 
is nothing systematic in this. It is not the beginning of 
those long bombardments which precede infantry battles 
on a wide front after the massing of many batteries. It is 
only the harassing fire of winter warfare, and there still 
reigns over our battlefields a strange, unearthly silence be- 
tween these bouts of shooting. It has seemed to me during 
the last few days when I have been up at the Front as 
though Nature herself were in suspense waiting and watch- 
ing and listening for the beginning of that conflict of men 
which is expected before the year grows much older per- 
haps before the first crocus thrusts up through the moist 
leaves, and before there is the first glint of green in the 

Yesterday it was immensely quiet again along that part 
of the line where I happened to be — on the extreme right 
where the village of La Fere lies broken in the marshes of 
the Oise, below St.-Quentin. We could see the enemy's 
country stretching out before us, slope melting into slope 


through the mists of the day, and one hill, naked of trees 
at the top, stark and bluff against the sky dominating our 
own countryside with direct observation. There were 
ruined villages on the enemy's side of the line like those on 
ours. Somewhere in the folds of earth were his guns, and 
nearer to us the hidden emplacements of his machine-guns, 
and below ground in their dug-outs his men. A menace 
was there and a secret — the menace of death, the secret of 
the enemy's plans, but everywhere that strange silence. 
Not a gun fired for an hour or more, not a rifle shot. Life 
seemed to have gone from this land. Nothing moved. No 
bird sang in the thickets. No smoke curled from the chim- 
neys of villages still standing behind the German lines. 
It was all dead and still. Only the wind stirred in the rank 
grass that grows over old wheatfields, and a little tremor 
of life in the wet earth and the trees that are waiting for the 
spring. In this hush the very wind, soft and warm yester- 
day over these battlefields, seemed to hold its breath ex- 
pectant of the things that one day soon will break the spell 
of silence and shock the sky with noise. Some men of ours 
came winding over the grassy track to a pile of old ruins on 
a high slope called Fort de Liez, near Barisis. After 
their march they sat down in a ditch with their packs against 
a broken wall and lit their cigarettes at the journey's end 
not far from the enemy. 

An officer came and stood by my side and looked over the 
enemy's lines. "When is this battle going to begin?" he 
asked, by way of opening the conversation. I said, "What 
battle? It looks as though the war had ended." "Yes," 
he answered, with a queer smile in his eyes, "I have seen 
this sort of thing before; it's what you might call the hush 
before the storm." 

He was with a company of London men relieving another 
crowd. "Write something good about us," said one of 
them with a grin, and I said, "I'm always writing some- 
thing good about you, because I come from the same old 


town, and because you have done as well as we all knew you 

"Well, don't forget the London Rangers," said the boy. 
Down a long road within gun-fire of the enemy came a 
black omnibus with men's rifles and steel hats shining over 
the top. It was one of the old London 'buses bringing the 
same lads who used to board it at Charing Cross on the way 
up to the Bank. 

In other places on other days lately I have met men who 
ask in a casual sort of way, "When is the fighting going to 
begin again?" and then discuss the prospects of the year 
with a curious air of aloofness as though they were a 
thousand miles away from the fighting lines, though only 
less than a gunshot off. Opinions differ from one dug-out 
to another. I have heard fairly reasoned arguments as to 
the improbability of a great German offensive. 'The enemy 
will attack us in several places," say other thoughtful voices 
over the wooden tables of the dug-outs. "He is not mass- 
ing all these divisions on this front out of mere bluff. He 
has enough men to make several subsidiary attacks to his 
main thrust, and he will use them and the crowds of guns 
behind them. He may count on surprise to roll up the line 
quickly. It won't be an old-time offensive anyhow. He 
will try for open warfare on a big scale." 

"And supposing it fails?" I ask. "Oh, it will fail all 
right," comes the answer from a strategist with one pip on 
his shoulder, "but it may not be all honey for us." So the 
talk goes on from one mess to another all along the lines, 
and everywhere these men of ours are trying to look for- 
ward into the future, which is not very distant — which may 
be only a few days away or a few weeks. But they do not 
dwell on these subjects very long, for there are other 
things to think and talk about, the small technicalities of 
war in the trench ahead of them, the business of wiring 
and road-making, the preparations for a new raid, the latest 
adventure in the line, or the extra bit of comfort in their 
own dug-out. They are pretty comfortable now, some of 


our dug-outs in the battlefields, with good tunnels behind 
lit by electricity, and many small conveniences for a human 
kind of life — enormously better than in the old days of 
warfare in the Ypres salient. 

"Have a wash," said a friend of mine the other day, 
when I arrived in his hole in the ground, and after washing 
out of a leather bucket, I noticed how shipshape this little 
bedroom was, with shaving tackle and brushes arranged 
on a neat dressing-table, and a shelf above the bed for 
books of good choice, and a few pictures on the wall to 
bring a little colour of life into this small dungeon. Through 
a tunnel was the officers' mess, with some' delectable cakes 
on the table, and round them a party of good fellows who 
made one feel at home. The senior officer brought out a 
puppy which had been found as a waif and stray of the 
trenches, and I heard of another dog found — though not 
here — in the trenches a night or two ago. It was a German 
messenger dog, and the message it carried was a warning 
to the men, "The colonel is coming." 

A young gunner, who had dropped in for tea, was en- 
thusiastic about his latest gun-pits, which afterwards he 
took me to see. Outside the dug-out was a silent fellow 
enjoying the sunset effects above a chalk cutting, and the 
silhouettes of a working party with picks and shovels 
etched blackly as they passed by on the sky-line. "A quiet 
spot," I said. "A good spot," was his answer, "but not 
so damned quiet as all that. The Boche got two direct hits 
yesterday. Very good shooting." 

At night lately there has been a brilliant show of stars, 
as the other night when we located our way home by the 
pointers of the Great Bear, and presently the whole con- 
stellation of the heavens shone out with a million little 
lights, and the Milky Way was splashed across their path. 

The ruined villages behind the lines were all black with 
jagged edges against the pale glamour of this night sky, 
except where camp-fires glowed in gutted rooms sheltered 
by blanket screens, where our men were having their last 


meal of the day, or writing home by candle-light. Some- 
times through the shell-holes in standing walls came a glow 
of red, as the sky behind was lit by gun-flashes. All along 
the line the Very-lights were rising and falling like soap- 
bubbles that are blown out of a pipe — bubbles of brilliant 
white light, which have fifteen seconds of life, and then go 
out. The dead trees of the highways of war, with their 
lopped branches and slashed trunks, stand like ghosts in 
this fitful darkness, and over all the old battlefields there 
are ghosts of memory that steal about one and touch one's 
soul with their coldness. 

But the air has been warm o' nights, and the wet west 
wind of the days has been singing the spring song across 
the fields where French peasants, old French women or 
young mothers of men are ploughing up the brown earth 
for the sowing of another year of life. It is good to see 
the glint of the steel plough, for so many fields further 
forward are desolate, and nothing moves over them but 
flocks of hungry rooks and solitary magpies, and at night 
the legions of the battlefield rats. 

Snowdrops are out in the woods, and the bosom of the 
earth is astir and the sap is rising in the young unslaugh- 
tered trees. But our men who watch this changing of the 
seasons in this good country of France know that to them 
the spring song will be a battle song. They are watching 
and waiting, while the days pass quickly and lengthen out 
in their hours of light. 

February 17 
Owing to a hard frost and a bright sun and a keen east 
wind which has blown the mists away, visibility has been 
good for the past two days, and the airmen on both sides 
have been fighting for reconnaissance, and the gunners — 
ours and the enemy's — have been firing more heavily than 
for several weeks past on various sectors of the Front by 
direct or aeroplane observation. The enemy's fire has 
been for harassing purposes over a wide extent of country 


from Flanders to the Cambrai area. Between six o'clock 
and midnight last night he bombarded the ground about 
Passchendaele heavily, and his guns were active on Friday 
against the Ypres-Staden railway, our line below the Vimy 
Ridge, the trenches from Lens to Hulluch, and those south- 
west of the Cambrai sector. There is no special significance 
in this beyond a good day to kill something, and it gives no 
indication of the enemy's intentions, nor is it the beginning 
of the great battles which soon must come out of the blue, 
or out of the mists, while the year is young. 

Yesterday, I was up on the Flanders battlefields, and saw 
once again that vast desolation through which our men 
fought last year for five months of enormous conflict. The 
weather has changed the aspect of it all since I was last 
there. The ground, which was a quagmire when our troops 
sank up to their waists sometimes if they left the duck- 
board tracks on their way to the enemy's "pill-boxes," is 
now as hard as iron. All the shell-craters which were 
ponds then are now filled with ice. But nothing has 
changed the infernal nature of this belt of ground, fifteen 
miles long and ten miles deep, which our men gained after 
months of most fierce fighting to the crest of Passchendaele, 
and the frost has solidified it, as a perpetual reminder of the 
enormous conflict of men and guns, which tore and gashed 
these slopes of earth, piercing it with millions of craters, 
sweeping it bare of life and strewing it with gruesome 
wreckage. The frost seems to have petrified it so that the 
ridge of each shell-crater is sharp and hard. It is as cold 
and barren and dead as the crater-land of the moon. And 
there in this dead land were our gunners and our men 
guarding it from the enemy, who may wish to come back 
to the slopes which he held. They live there below the 
frozen ground, have their life there among the shattered 
pill-boxes and the old upheaved trenches, and eat and sleep 
in this great graveyard of nature and youth. Somewhere 
from the fissures of the earth our guns were firing. I could 
see the flashes but not the guns. In observation posts 


looking out to the enemy's lines, boys of ours, hidden in 
muckheaps of frozen earth and rubbish of battle, stared 
through field-glasses at the enemy's outposts and watched 
the enemy's shelling. There was not much shell-fire, but 
crumps were bursting below us, and now and then a big 
puff of black shrapnel came into the blue of the sky. 

I spoke to a sergeant in one of these places. He had been 
in Flanders for fifteen months, and said that he and his 
boys had got used to the life. "We used to fret at first," 
he said; "we were always looking for the end, but now it 
seems the natural way of life, and we don't think much of 
the end, but just settle down and carry on from one day to 
the other and make the best of it." 

These inhuman places have become humanized by our 
men who live in them, and the most abnormal thing on 
earth has become normal to them. 

"What are the enemy's chances if he attacks?" I said to 
this man. "Here?" he asked, and then laughed. "If he 
tries to come across here he will catch cold." He did not 
mean a cold in the nose. 

In Flanders and down by Lens, where I went the day 
before, staring into a street of that silent city of the mine 
fields, which I have seen on fire with the sweep of battle, 
there were no obvious signs of any imminent attack. Apart 
from scattered shell-fire and occasional bursts of machine- 
gunning, as though literary gentlemen there had sudden 
inspirations and were rattling their typewriters at great 
speed, or as though demon coffin-makers were spitting out 
tacks and hammering them into the planks with rapid 
strokes, these old places of death had quietened down, and 
one could walk with a sense of safety where until the end 
of last year one walked in fear. Enemy planes came into 
the sky yesterday over the Passchendaele Ridge, flying high 
between our clusters of shrapnel and over the white ruins 
of Ypres, clear-cut and dazzling, like rain-washed rocks, 
against the cloudless blue, through which the sunlight 
streamed. There was the noise of air fighting where our 


flying men and the enemy's met and challenged each other 
beyond the sight of men on earth. 

It was the same old scene of war which I have described 
a hundred times, but it was as though the orchestra of the 
guns were just tuning up while the actors were rehearsing 
behind the scene for another drama of historic tragedy, for 
which there has not been time to begin. And that is ex- 
actly the truth of things. 

February 18 
At any moment now we may see the beginning of the 
enemy's last and desperate effort to end the war by a de- 
cisive victory, for the offensive which he lias been preparing 
for months is imminent. In my recent messages I have 
described the waiting attitude of oar armies in this tune 
of comparative quietude along the lines, and the uncanny 
sense one has had of a portentous secret hidden behind the 
silence of the enemy's trenches. "What are those beggars 
doing there?" asks one man of another, as they stare over 
No Man's Land to ruined villages and dark woods where 
there is no sign of life. "Up to some dirty work," said 
some of them. And they were right. They are not idle 
over there, those field-grey men. They are being urged on 
to hurried labour, which is part of the secret of their Higher 
Command, and these men know that every trench they dig 
is a pathway to a battle which will soak the ground with 
their blood before many days are past, and that every new 
gun-pit they build is one stage further to new fields of 
slaughter. Each side has been trying to discover the secret 
of the other — the plans to which every bit of work along the 
line may give a clue. Each side has been trying to blind 
the other's eyes and prevent observation of activity. The 
German gunners have a "hate" against our balloons, and 
try to shoot them dozun by long-range guns, because in. the 
baskets below them are two pairs of watchful eyes noting 
the activity of their trains behind the lines, and any move- 
ment on the roads. They hate still more our airmen who 


every day for many days past have been Hying over the 
enemy's lines, spotting their new battle positions, photo- 
graphing their new saps, and assembly trenches, and am- 
munition dumps, and attacking the enemy's air squadrons 
whenever they come out to beat back these observers. They 
cannot prevent this work of reconnaissance and there have 
been scores of encounters in the air lately in which many 
hostile machines have been crashed to earth and brought 
down in flames. The enemy has been desperately anxious 
to find out our intentions and strength at certain points of 
the line, and has attempted many raids to get prisoners and 
information. Our raids with the object of getting to the 
heart of the secret that lies behind the silence of the lines 
have been more successful than his on the whole, and we 
have been lucky in getting prisoners who have revealed 
much of what we wanted to know. 

We know now that the enemy is preparing to attack us 
heavily between Arras and St.-Quentin, and that his prepara- 
tions are ready, so that we may expect this offensive any 
day now that the weather conditions are favourable. It 
will not be preceded by days of bombardment nor by a 
registration of guns revealing the batteries which he has 
brought up secretly under cover of darkness. With a 
short and sharp bombardment, the use of gas shells, and of 
a number of Tanks he will launch the attack suddenly, 
relying upon surprise of time and place, the rapidity and 
power of his movement, and the excited enthusiasm of his 
troops, whom he lias endeavoured by every kind of spell 
and dope" to inspire with a belief that victory and peace 
are within their grasp. 

The German Higher Command have hurried forward for 
political as well as military reasons. The interior condi- 
tions of Germany, the sullen spirit that has been crushed 
but not killed after the strikes, the attitude of Austria, the 
growing pressure of public opinion in the Central Empires 
against this last great gamble with the blood of their man- 
hood, and the steady growth of the American army in 


France, are all factors which are spurring on the German 
generals to strike soon in order to gain some showy success 
and to silence the cry of the people by the advertisement of 
victory. Behind their lines is a terrific industry and a high 
nervous tension like that of a nation drugged by hasheesh. 
Civilians have been impressed to dig new trenches. New 
railways have been built to carry up men and guns and am- 
munition. Far behind the lines, eighty miles or more, the 
German stosstruppen or storm troops, many of them from 
Russia, are being trained in new methods of attack for open 
warfare. The depots are crowded with reserves ready to 
support the advance waves and -fill up the slaughtered gaps. 
The hospitals have been cleared, and many new buildings 
have been put up for the reception of the tide of wounded 
which will flow back. All leave has been stopped for Ger- 
man officers and men, and there is not one among them 
who does not know that in a little while he will be Hung 
into the furnace fires of another Marne and another Ver- 
dun, in which there will be great carnage. 

To inspire the German people to hold out a little while 
longer, to suppress the spirit of revolt among them so that 
the military leaders may make this throw with fate, fan- 
tastic stories are being spread about among neutrals and 
in their own Press, and by secret word which is carefully 
spread broadcast, of new methods of attack which will en- 
sure success. Bogeys are faked up and put in circulation. 
The German soldier as well as the German people have been 
given special treatment for moral. Both of them have 
been disappointed too often by promises of victory and 
peace to believe in them again without some new tricks. As 
long ago as 19 14 they were promised the war would be 
over before the leaves of autumn fell. Galicia, Verdun, 
the battles of the Isonzo were in turn to give them victories. 
The U-boat war was to starve England to surrender by 
August last. So now the decisive blow in the West by new 
methods of frightfulness is the very latest, and I think the 
last, spell that will hold the German people and army to- 


gether until it has been tried. The army has been Jiardest 
to inspire. Men who went through the blood bath of the 
Somme and the horrors of Flanders are not easily duped 
as to the ease with which they are expected to smash our 
defences. The old methods of attack with the preliminary 
bombardment conjure up terrors which they are not willing 
to face. So they have been trained to this new form of 
secret attack, and their officers have tried to convince them 
that they can roll up our lines. It was not easy. While] 
many of their officers seem confident that the gamble is 
worth trying, the men murmur and have no faith in the 
fairy-tale of an easy break through. Kanonenfleisch, say 
the men — cannon-fodder. 

"How many men are willing to fight to the end?" said 
General Ludendorff at Laon to a parade of his troops. One 
non-commissioned officer and six men stepped out of the 
ranks. I believe that if the first wild onslaught fails, as 
our armies are convinced it will fail, the German officers 
will find it hard to drive their men to fresh bouts of slaugh- 
ter, and the German people zvill cry out in agony for the 
cessation of this sacrifice. 

At the moment they are drugged and under the spell 
of a frightful secret hope. They know that many of the 
tales spread among them are false, but pretend to them- 
selves that they are credible. They are a nation with blood- 
shot eyes and a high temperature of fever, buoyed up by 
artificial stimulants to a last period of resistance against 
the despair that eats into their hearts. The reaction, if 
their hopes fail, will be a wild one. By the grace of all 
goodness they will fail. Not only the attacks that are 
imminent against ourselves, but the blows that will be 
struck against the French will fail if the courage of the 
men and the faith of the men, the readiness of great armies, 
the power of our guns, and above all the spirit behind the 
guns may defend the world from this menace. What- 
ever the cost, oar men will not fail, and the prayers of our 
people should be with them. 


February 20 
Although to-day is dull, the last two days have been 
wonderfully bright for the time of year, with a blue sky 
over the frosted fields, and our airmen have made the most 
of visibility by getting out and about across the enemy's 
lines, noting the changes there, and watching for any move- 
ment on his rails and roads. 

It is not often in this war, nor in many places, that one 
can see the enemy himself above ground except in actual 
battle, for, as a rule, if a man is seen he dies, but two days 
ago I had the chance to see many German soldiers behind 
their lines, no bigger than ants to the naked eye, but through 
one's glasses quite clear and distinct as human creatures, 
busy with some purpose of their own. They came winding 
down a tract 2000 yards away, on the hill of St.-Gobain, 
above the Oise, not knowing, I guess, that they could be 
seen from the hummock of earth whither I had crawled 
into a hole to look through a squint-box. First came a 
column of lorries, and then a body of marching men, and 
then a party of cyclists. The track was white in the sun 
against the green of the grass, and these men moved very 
slowly, like a creeping shadow. It gave me a queer emo- 
tion to see them there in their own lines, these field-grey 
men, who are hidden as a rule until our own men go for- 
ward in attack to rout them out of their holes and ditches 
after enormous bombardments. It was as though one saw 
the inhabitants of another planet through some monstrous 
telescope, and truly these German soldiers are as distant 
from us, as strange to us in ideas and purpose, as though 
they dwelt beyond the stars. ... At least, while the 
trenches divide us the link seems to have snapped between 
their human nature and ours. Yet they were less than two 
miles away, moving in the same sunlight that cast a 
shadow across my hummock of earth. 

Behind them, much further away, were the guns which 
have no human nature, but which in this war seem to the 
infantry like the powers that belong to the Spirit of Evil, 


blind in their destruction, careless in theii choice of victims, 
ruthless as the old devil gods of the world's first darkness. 
It was a quiet day on this part of the line, as on most others 
just now in this breathing space before great battles, but 
the German guns were sending over some ranging shots 
and doing a little target practice against some of our posi- 
tions. As I walked towards the knoll from which I could 
see the hill track, they sent over some woolly bears — a mix- 
ture of high explosive and shrapnel, which burst high up in 
the blue as though a bottle of ink had been spilt on a silken 
cloth. They spread out like that in a widening smudge, 
and were as black as that, but burst so high that they did 
no kind of damage. 

Down below the little knoll on our side of the lines was 
the village of Amigny-Rouy, 500 yards away, and the enemy 
pounded it with 5.9's for ten minutes or so, and then ceased 
fire, so that with the midday sun on its walls and the 
shadow of some fruit-trees etched in a pattern against its 
red roofs, it looked a place of slumbering peace. "A cosy- 
looking village, that," said a man who came up in the 
quietude. "Not so jolly cosy fifteen minutes ago," I 
answered, and presently the fraud of this peacefulness was 
revealed when the enemy's guns started again, and his 
crumps came over with their whining cries, followed by the 
gruff cough of their burst down there among the wattled 
walls and red-tiled roofs. All the quietude along the 
Front is like this. It looks so much like peace that one's 
soul might be deceived except by the knowledge that out 
of the silence the fury will come again. Our men are not 
deceived, however quiet the line, and they are watching 
every tiny sign in the enemy's lines, the slightest change in 
the shape of a trench or a mound of earth, the daily habits 
of the enemy's shell-fire, any unaccustomed movement 
which may be detected by sound or sight with vigilant 

"What are the enemy's chances of attack?" I asked. It 


was a private soldier, a signaller, who answered in one 
grim sentence. "The chance of getting hell," he said. 

I think that is the belief of most of our men, not only 
in this part of the line, but in others ; and I believe also that 
if the enemy persists in his preparations for the offensive 
against us, and then drives his men forward, they will pay 
a hellish price for any ground they get. 

For the first time they will bring up Tanks against us to 
break through our wire. They have copied our Tanks and 
our method of using them against wired defences. But our 
Tank pilots and their commanders smile at this menace, 
while accepting the compliment of imitation. "We had to 
learn by bitter experience," some of them said to me yester- 
day, "and the Germans have got to buy their knowledge in 
the same school. We are many battles ahead of them, and 
we shall make rings round them with any luck." It is not 
boastfulness, but knowledge, that makes them confident. 

Yesterday I rode across the fields in a Tank as the sun 
was setting, and a big family of Tanks had come home to 
tea after their day's work, and were squatting round the 
camp with a golden haze about them. They looked inert 
and sluggish things, but if the enemy's Tanks come out 
against them there will be some deadly work. 

The German soldiers must realize the power that lies 
behind our lines — a power of which these engines are but 
a small unit — and I believe that thousands of men like 
those I saw winding down the hill track are filled with hor- 
ror at the thought of the slaughter that awaits them if they 
are hurled against our strength. But the days are passing, 
and their time is drawing near. 


The Long New Line 

February 21 
It was revealed a few weeks ago that we had taken over 
from the French a part of the line round about St.-Quentin, 


in order to liberate some of the troops of our Allies for 
operations elsewhere. Since then we have been gradually 
extending the length of our front on the right of our 
armies. This will render a considerable service to the 
French, by economizing their man-power at a critical time, 
and it is remarkable evidence of our own confidence that, 
after the tremendous fighting last year and the departure 
of some of our divisions to Italy, w T e should be willing to 
lengthen our lines to this extent. 

Several times lately I have visited this new part of the 
Front, above St.-Quentin to the Oise, and the country that 
leads up to it, with more interest than I can now find in the 
old battlefields, because this ground is different in its 
nature, and still sweet and clean in the absence of continual 
gun-fire. Our men who came to take it over from the 
French — men who had been in the mud and fire of Flan- 
ders — stared around and said, "This seems like Paradise." 
It was Paradise to them because of its quietude and beauty, 
but they knew the old serpent of evil was about, and one 
officer, as I have told before, said, "It is too quiet to be 
good. And when is the battle going to begin?" He and 
the men with him had taken over that very morning. They 
hardly knew the points of the compass, and had but a 
vague idea of the whereabouts of the enemy until other 
officers came up to hand over and make them wise. 

From points of vantage along this new front one can 
look straight across to the German lines where the River 
Oise and its canal are in the flats and marshes below our 
own slopes. Their outposts are there among the willows 
on the edge of a No Man's Land which is as wide as iooo 
yards in places because of the swamps made by the breaking 
of the canal bank, and behind them is a formidable trench 
system, part of the Hindenburg line, from Queant down to 

The little town of La Fere is in the river-bed on the east 
side of the canal as an outer bastion of their defences, 
without any sign of life there under its broken roofs and 


behind shell-pierced walls beyond the ruin of St-Firmin 
Church. From our observation posts on ground that rises 
into hummocky hills above the St.-Ouentin Canal we can 
look straight into La Fere and into the villages of Achery, 
Mayot, and Brissay, where the German outposts have their 
dug-outs under the ruins. 

A thin grey mist crept about these places when I stared 
at them the other day, and they seemed abandoned by all 
human life. No smoke was above those ruins. No 
sound of work or war disturbed the utter silence of these 
marshlands and these broken houses behind a thin screen 
of trees, wet and shiny after rain. But sometimes our men 
see German soldiers moving there beyond the river, a sentry 
pacing up and down his post, a grey figure motionless 
among the reeds with a rifle slung across his shoulders. 

South-east of the Qise the ground rises to a ridge wmich 
stands as a high rampart in the German lines. It is called 
the Massif de St.-Gobain, and the northern end of it, which 
tapers down to the plain again, is known as the Tail of 
Monceau. This abrupt range above the marshlands domi- 
nates all the surrounding country, and gives the enemy a 
wide observation of our lines and roads and villages for 
miles around. It is bare and treeless on the heights, like 
a Devonshire tor, and when I looked at it the other day, 
black and grim under a grey sky, it seemed to me as a pre- 
historic castle with ramparts and battlements casting a dark 
shadow over the woods and villages below. Here some 
old chieftain of Celtic France might have made his castle 
and his camp, with a horde of shaggy warriors and a 
minstrel or two to sing their bloody exploits, and some 
women in the skins of beasts. The mists lay about its 
lower slopes, giving a look of mystery and romance to this 
natural fortress where the Germans are strongly en- 

All this country, south and east of St.-Ouentin, is wild 
and rugged — what the French call accidents, with great 
forests like that of Coucy, where there are still descendants 


of the wild boar which the Kings of France used to hunt. 
Behind our lines this forest land is continued, and our men 
go through big, dark woods like those of Savy and Holnon 
and Frieres and Haute Tombolle. They have not been 
slashed to death by shell-fire, though shells have crushed 
between their glades, and when the spring and summer 
make them leafy again they will seem as good to our men as 
the forest of Arden, though no sweet Rosalind will be 
there, or as Shrewsbury Forest — not that by Glencorse 
Wood — when Robin Hood and his merry men lived under 
the greenwood tree in the springtime of the world — as good 
as that, unless the enemy fills them with fire and death. 

Further north, where the canal goes up to St.-Quentin, 
the ground is more open, with a chain of gentle slopes ris- 
ing beyond that old city, so that the enemy's defensive lines 
follow their contours. A few weeks ago it was so quiet 
hereabout that it was possible to walk behind our lines in 
full view of the enemy's position without danger, and, 
what is stranger, without much sense of danger. I walked 
into the village of Dallon, on the left side of the St.-Quen- 
tin Canal, the other day. To the right of me was the 
ruined village of Urvillers, with the German village of 
Itancourt across the way up the slope. 

Ahead of me, so close that I could see the holes in its 
roofs and walls and separate buildings broken by shell-fire, 
and the white masonry of its cathedral, stood the city of 
St.-Quentin. I had seen this town first a year ago, when 
the enemy retreated from a wide stretch of country east of 
Peronne after the destruction of the villages. From the 
Bois d'Holnon I first saw the towers of St.-Quentin and 
those streets into which the old "Contemptibles" came in the 
first months of the war. But this view from the south- 
west is closer — so close that it seemed but a short walk 
and an easy way into the heart of it, and so quiet that 
death did not seem near at hand, if one went a little further 
forward. The cathedral stood square and white above 
the houses. Its pointed roof had been shot away, and its 


walls were scarred by shell-fire, and light shone through its 
empty window spaces, but the great body of it had not been 
shattered by the storm of war. The Palais de Justice and 
the theatre and barracks were clearly visible above the 
lower buildings, but as I stared into the city I knew that it 
was like other cities of the war zone — desolate and dead 
but for the sinister life of enemies who had driven away the 
inhabitants. Here, when it was far behind the lines, the 
population stayed under German rule. Its ruined streets 
hold many tragic stories, and one of them is of a young 
English officer who was left behind in our retreat from 
Mons. He was in the Grande Place when the head of the 
first German column came in, and leaning up against a wall 
with a cigarette in his mouth and a rifle at his shoulder 
he fired several shots at them, as the story was told me by 
a French lady who saw it from a window on the other side. 
This young man preferred death to surrender, and he had 
his wish after firing those shots. They brought up a 
machine-gun, and he fell under a hose of bullets. More 
than three years have passed since then, and they have been 
filled with the growth and power of the British Army, and 
down its streets have poured a tide of wounded from the 
fire of our guns. The new line we are holding south of 
St.-Quentin has so far been very quiet, and the enemy has 
been defending his positions here by old territorial troops, 
not good for active warfare. But out of that quietude 
perhaps before this article is printed may come a fury of 
assault, for in that wooded country behind and under the 
cover of the hills the enemy has been preparing evil things. 

February 24 
The enemy's* artillery was rather more active yesterday on 
various sectors of our front than during recent weeks. His 
guns were busy on the Flanders front, where in the morn- 
ing he attempted a raid near Passchendaele, round Hill 70, 
and Lens, where other raiders came out with no success on 
each side of the valley of the Scarpe, where I watched his 


shells bursting about Monchy and on our ground above 
Gavrelle and southwards by the Flesquieres Ridge and the 
country below Cambrai. It seemed to me that many of 
these scattered shots on each side of the Scarpe Valley were 
for ranging purposes, and to get the variation of the wind. 
German gunners fired a number of woolly bears, a mixture 
of high explosive and shrapnel, which makes a big black 
smudge of smoke, and they burst so high that they had no 
deadly effect. All this shooting has no unusual significance. 
It is not for the beginning of the great offensive, and is 
only gun practice for harassing fire. In some of the 
trenches opposite us are poor troops not yet replaced by 
those lions who have been fed up for the fight and trained 
in offensive tactics by intensive culture ioo miles or so 
behind the lines. Poor troops and weary of the war and 
miserable in moral — some of them who became our prison- 
ers the other day had more than a touch of Polish blood. 
They were glad to be taken in a raid and brought safely to 
our lines. 

An officer I know spoke to them in German, and after 
some questions asked them whether the Kaiser was still 
popular among the German troops. They shrugged their 
shoulders and said, "We have no great love for him; we 
love our wives and children and our little farms, and we 
want the war to finish so that we can go back to them." 

From the utterances of prisoners one may know some- 
thing of the mentality of the enemy who lives on the other 
side of the way and the changing moods that pass down his 
trenches as the winds of war blow by with rumours and 
hopes and false promises and whispers of revolt. But 
sometimes out of the silence that reigns in No Man's Land 
and the hidden life of the enemy beyond there comes a mes- 
sage or a sign that reveals the latest emotion of those men. 
So it was a few days ago when, stuck up between the 
trenches, our sentries saw at dawn a big board with some 
English words scrawled in large white letters. It was a 
message of taunting and mock pity. "Peace with Ukraine," 


said the words, "Hard luck on Tommy," and then in the 
last line, "Poor old Tommy." 

Poor old Tommy grinned at this notice-board, and 
crawled out to it and brought it back as a trophy. It is 
"poor old Fritz" that is the cause of the same sentiment of 
condolence among our men when they talk of a German 
offensive. If he tries to attack us here, they say, he will 
"come up against a snag. He will get it straight in the 

I have been a good deal up and down the lines lately, 
and from north to south, wherever I have been, I have 
heard not only officers, but men, express perfect conviction 
that if the enemy tries to get through on their particular 
sector he will be swept to pieces. That this is the belief 
of men who have no illusions, who have no dust in their 
eyes but that of the battlefields, and who will have to resist 
whatever assault may come, and endure the abomination 
of its shell-fire, should be reassuring to any over-anxious 
minds. Our armies believe that however powerful the 
enemy's attack may be we are now strong enough in de- 
fence to prevent any big drive through. At the best they 
could only gain portions of ground in advance of our main 
defences, and in doing so they would pay a fearful price. 

Meanwhile it is certain that the enemy is preparing to 
bring Tanks into action. We knew some time ago that 
he was training some of his troops to attack behind them, 
and some of our observers have seen a Tank behind the 
enemy's lines. It was lumbering around with a body of 
German infantry on each side of it. This year may see 
Tanks against Tanks, and many curious alterations in 
tactics resulting from this moving machine-gun emplace- 
ment ; but we have a long start in experience and technique, 
and the advantage should be immensely on our side. 

During these days and nights of war time there is in- 
cessant vigilance in our lines for anything that may come 
in the dawn. Always the enemy's lines are being watched, 


and in spite of the big, dull boredom of the battlefield, 
where nothing moves except the shell-tossed earth, I find 
a sense of drama in coming into one of our observation 
posts near the German trenches, among the boys who sit 
there with their telescopes, studying the section of the 
enemy's front as bacteriologists who gaze through a micro- 
scope at the life of a disease. They know every dead 
tree and every hummock of earth, and every bit of ruin 
within the field of their glass, and the enemy's working 
parties cannot take a scratch on the earth nor put out a coil 
of wire without attracting the notice of these peeping Toms. 
A corporal lent me his glass yesterday and we stood side 
by side under a bit of concrete for head cover in a hole in 
the ground and watched the white wriggle of earth, which 
was the enemy's parapet, winding over the barren fields, 
and the row of tattered trees, which once I saw filled with 
red flame, when a thick wood was there, and the country 
which stretches away and away behind the enemy's lines, 
with never a human creature to be seen among its craters. 
There was a grey light everywhere, and the trenches and 
the trees and bits of ruined villages and piles of broken 
sand-bags and sunken roads, with dug-outs built into their 
banks, were all touched with this pale glamour and had a 
thousand tones of greyness between black and white. Be- 
hind our lines there was the same grey loneliness and a 
queer cave world where once were railway-lines, taking 
people from one little town to another, but where now are 
sand-bag walls and houses in the chalk like the dwellings 
of prehistoric earth men. They are our men who live there, 
boys who had rich dreams of life in their eyes before they 
came out to these battlefields, men who knew the fine and 
delicate things of a civilized world, lads who whistled down 
the streets of London when the lights were lit. Now they 
are in this desert of the battlefields, making their homes 
below ground, and hoping that direct hits will not spoil 
their evening meal. 


March 3 
I went out into a world the other day where no shells, 
bursting high or bursting low, can have any effect upon our 
men who live there. No German barrage can "put the 
wind up," because in this world there is no wind. Visibility 
may be good or bad, but the enemy has no observation here, 
though he is on top all the time. I went out into No 
Man's Land beyond our lines, and was as safe as in the 
Strand at home, though only a few yards away from the 
enemy's outposts. For this world into which I went, leav- 
ing the blue of the sky and the noise of things that "go off" 
suddenly, was deep underground. 

It is a place of long galleries, sixty feet below the out- 
side earth, in which one may walk for hours and hours and 
not come to the end of them. I walked for hours and hours, 
and my guide, who knows these tunnels blindfold, pointed 
to the entrance of another gallery, and said, "That leads 
to another part of the Front, and would take another day 
to explore." 

My guide was one of the officers of the Australian Tun- 
nelling Company, which during the past two years has 
done a great part of the work in boring this subterranean 
system below some section of our battle-line. They are 
mostly miners from the goldfields of Western Australia — 
hard, tough fellows with a special code of their own as re- 
gards their ways of discipline and work, but experts at their 
job, and with all their pride in it and a courage which would 
frighten the devils of hell if they happened to meet in the 
dark. When they first came over with their plant the Ger- 
mans were mining actively under our lines and blowing up 
our infantry in the trenches. It was the worst terror of 
war before poison gas came, and I used to pity our poor 
officers and men who knew, and hated to know, that the 
enemy was sapping his way under them, and that at any 
moment they might be buried in a crater or hurled sky high. 
It is many months now since the enemy's mining activities 


were reported in our communiques. They were beaten out 
of the field by British, Australian, Canadian, and New 
Zealand miners, who fought the Germans back under- 
ground from gallery to gallery, blowing them up again and 
again whenever they drew near, and racing them for the 
possession of the leads whenever they tried to regain part 
of their destroyed systems. The Australian tunnellers had 
a race with the German then, and the lives of many men 
depended on their speed. They could hear him tamping or 
charging the mine. But they drove in at three times his 
speed at working^when they are "all out" they can do that 
every time — blew in the ends of one of his galleries, and 
then broke through his timber into the tunnel. 

The dash through of the Australian tunnellers with 
rifles and revolvers was an exciting adventure. The enemy 
had escaped, but their system was destroyed before they 
could touch off their mines. The Germans know now that 
they are beaten underground, and it is an honour of which 
this Australian company is proud that, apart from their own 
casualties, not a single infantry soldier of ours has lost his 
life by hostile mining since they challenged the enemy and 
beat him in this part of the battle-front. 

It is an uncanny thing to walk through this subterranean 
world. It reminded me yesterday of "The Time Machine," 
by H. G. Wells, where the traveller in the fourth dimension 
goes down the shaft and discovers the underground people, 
and hears the throb of mighty engines and feels the touch 
of soft bodies in the darkness. It was dark in the begin- 
ning of the tunnels, and down some of the galleries running 
out to the fighting points, and men pressed against the 
chalk. They were furnished with wooden tables and 
sometimes there was the clank of steel hat against steel 
hat. Here and there for 500 yards or so the tunnel roof 
was so low that one had to walk half doubled, and even then 
hit one's head sharply against the timber props. A candle 
held by the man in front was the only light in the black- 
ness. But presently the underground world became more 


spacious and lightened. A tall man could walk upright, 
and long galleries were lit by bulbs of electric light. On 
each side of the galleries were rooms carved out of the 
chalk. They were furnished with wooden tables and 
benches, and the miners were playing cards there. A fuggy 
smell, and a dampish mist crept towards us, and my guide 
said, "There are a good many men hereabouts." 

Through holes in the chalk walls I looked into caverns 
where men lay asleep in bunks. The voices of men, yawn- 
ings and hummings and whistlings came through chinks in 
the rock, to the silence of the galleries. Later on, after 
much more walking, there was a queer throbbing and 
whirring, and in a big vault was a power-house, with three 
electric engines providing the light of the galleries. Not 
far away was a room from which a fierce heat came and a 
smell of good food cooking. It was the kitchen, with big 
stoves and ovens, where meals were being cooked by 
sweltering men within a few yards of the front-line 
trenches. In a little while a big electric fan will blow a 
draught through the kitchen and take away the heat. In 
other rooms were field dressing-stations, and we came to a 
subway with trolley-lines, down which the wounded are 
brought from the battlefield up above, so that there is none 
of that stumbling and drooping and danger of death on the 
way, as when stretcher-bearers have to carry men over 
shell-cratered land and down narrow trenches under fire. 
The roofs of the tunnels were richly coloured with a reddish 
fungus, which hangs down like stalactites, and by a queer 
freak of life which persists by the stubborn desire of 
nature, some of the square planks used for propping up the 
galleries had sprouted, and there were little white shoots 
from these beams. We went deeper down and further for- 
ward. In one room men were listening like telephone 
operators, but the instrument in their ears tells stranger tales 
than those that travel along overhead wires. They were 
listening to the sounds of German life in other tunnels 


like these, the sounds of men walking and talking and filling 
sand-bags and moving timber. The listeners are so expert 
that they can tell by the nature of the sounds exactly what 
the enemy is doing through a chalk wall seventy feet thick. 
Their knowledge of the enemy life is so exact by this means 
that when they captured some of his galleries they found 
them exactly as they had mapped them out beforehand by 
the indications of sound. Presently we went into one of 
the fighting points driven out beyond the lateral galleries. 
And my guide said, "Here we will be quiet, because we 
don't want the enemy to get suspicious. We are now out 
in No Man's Land/' 

It was a- safe and pleasant way of wandering into No 
Man's Land. The war seemed a world away. It was only 
some hours later, after a good lunch with good fellows in 
the bowels of the earth, when we came up to the surface 
of the earth and saw the sky again and the dreary waste of 
the battlefield and heard the cry and crash of scattered 
shells that we remembered our whereabouts and this busi- 
ness above ground. The Australian tunnellers live below 
ground for the greater part of their life, and some of them 
have the pale look of men who are out of the light. In 
their spare time down below they play cards, and yarn of 
old days in the goldfields, and carve faces in the chalk, as one 
man had carved the face of Shakespeare — "Old Bill/' as he 
called him — exactly like the Stratford bust. It is a strange 
life in this modern world below the fields of death, and 
there is a sinister purpose at the end of the tunnels, but 
these men, by their toil and courage, with picks and ex- 
plosives and listening instruments, have saved the lives 
of many hundreds of British soldiers, and long after the 
war is finished this underground world of theirs will remain 
as a memorial of their splendid labour. 

Hostile shelling is becoming more severe on several sectors 
of our front as far north as the Passchendaele Ridge, and 
southwards in the district of the Cambrai fighting. Last 


night there was gas shelling of our positions round Havrin- 
court in that neighbourhood for four hours, starting from 
six o'clock, and the enemy flung a number of high-explosive 
shells along the roads. All this shows an activity some- 
what beyond the normal of what we have experienced dur- 
ing the winter warfare, which has been unusually quiet, but 
it needs an expert to interpret the various signs and to co- 
ordinate them into an exact plan of the enemy's intentions 
or fears. We have those experts, and they know pretty 
well what the enemy is about. . . . Meanwhile the weather 
is improving, and there is the spirit of spring over the fields 
and in the woods. The bushes and young saplings are 
putting out their buds. The first daffodils are pushing up 
through last year's leaves, and green life is showing through 
the browns of winter. It is sad and horrible that beyond 
the sunlight and the singing birds and all this call to the 
blood of youth there should be the shadow of the powers 
that destroy. Over great tracts of ground the coming of 
spring will make but little difference to the look of things, 
for there is nothing there that has any life to grow again. 

I have just been to those battlefields of ours northwards 
from Lens, round Hulluch and the old mining country be- 
yond Mazingarbe and Nceux-les-Mines. In winter or sum- 
mer the scenery here is the same — a wide, flat plain, quite 
treeless, because long ago the woods were cut down by 
shell-fire, with the white chalk thrown up from the long 
trenches tracing queer winding patterns over the darker 
earth, and here and there the steep grey sides of an old 
mine-crater, and everywhere as far as the eye can reach the 
tangled ruins of pit-heads and power-houses, with the iron 
of their machinery all twisted and rusted among the conical 
slagheaps which are the black hills of this most desolate 

What does the coming of spring mean to a country which 
for nearly four years has been blasted beyond the power 
of resurrection until the earth below is turned over the ruin 


above, and all traces of this massacre are hidden? Round 
about here, where the enemy's artillery is now active, our 
line has changed less than in any other part of the Front. 
Indeed, it is the only long sector of our fighting-lines which 
has hardly moved forward since the beginning of the 
Somme battles. The trenches this side of Hulluch are 
where they were when I first went there after the Battle 
of Loos, in September 191 5, and behind them are the same 
places of ill-fame, as Vermelles, where in the early days 
of the war the French fought from garden to garden and 
wall to wall, until that historic fight in the chateau, when 
the enemy fell through the floor upon them, and a French 
lieutenant used a marble Venus to knock out their brains. 
The village is not much more of a ruin than when I first 
saw it, though many shells have powdered its dust since 
then, and La Rutoire farm, familiar to thousands of our 
soldiers who have dodged death there, is the same huddle of 
sinister walls pierced by monstrous holes into which the 
enemy still flings his shells. 

When I passed a few hundred yards away the enemy was 
at it again, as always. He hates to leave any pile of bricks 
within range of his guns when he has once made good target 
practice. Our men in country like this date their reminis- 
cences by the destruction of some landmark. One officer 
told me that he came to the line after the Tower Bridge 
at Loos had been "done in," and was surprised because 
I had seen it standing. And another remembered some- 
thing that had happened before we knocked down Wingies 
Tower. I looked over into the German country up by 
Haisnes and Douvrin, and wondered what was going on in 
that silent landscape where there was no sign of life nor any 
movement except when the sunlight chased the shadows 
across the chalky slopes and into the black holes of ruined 
villages. Across all this country of French mine-fields odd 
shells from our guns and German guns went howling like 
banshees, and fountains of earth shot up where they burst. 



Raids and Reconnaissances 

March 5 
There is still nothing but raiding to record, but from the 
enemy's side and our own it is developing in intensity, so 
that hardly a sector of the line is immune from these 
alarums and excursions, and all along the Front the nights 
are spent in watching out for any rush that may come after 
sharp and sudden bombardment. It is a grim kind of 
warfare, requiring special qualities of character and train- 
ing — the nerve power which enables a man to play a lone 
hand in a tight corner, the hunter's instinct of hearing, the 
sense of direction in darkness, and the cunning of attack. 
The volunteer is better than the pressed man, and practically 
all our raiders are volunteers, who ask for a share in the 
next man hunt. 

An Australian officer told me yesterday that for the raid 
which he led opposite Warneton that night he paraded 130 
of his men and asked if any of them would care to come 
along with him in that adventure. Only five of them did 
not care — married men with children. All the others were 
keen to go, and those chosen were trained beforehand for 
the job — intensive training — like athletes for a Marathon 

I sat down with the officer and his mess-mates to a dish 
of tea, which one can always get in an Australian company, 
when they assembled after the raid of the night. They 
were a clean-cut, lithe-looking set of fellows, with a fine 
simplicity of speech and manners, a straight-talking, 
straight-thinking crowd, with a gift of quiet laughter. The 
officer who sat next to me had been a grazier on a big scale 
in Australia. He was not much different, I guess, from one 
of those young English knights who came riding out to 
France with Sir Walter Manny, when there were other 


kinds of raids, six centuries ago. That was how he looked 
to me, with his tall, long-limbed figure, and a light of steel 
in his eyes. He had been gassed a little twice in two years 
of war out here, but never wounded in night raids and 
scouting. "No such luck," he said. 

A friend of his had pushed a pen in a city office of 
Australia, but now was a hunter of men, and so keen a 
scout that he was going up last night to look at a raid in 
which he had no share, as a matter of interest. "And take 
care you don't get a whack in the belly-band," said the 
colonel in command. 

A great man that colonel, and he ought to be put into a 
ballad like Sir Richard Grenville or Sir Francis Drake. He 
was a Scot from Australia, hard as oak, tough as oak, with 
an extraordinary winning smile under fierce eyebrows, and 
with a blood-curdling way of speech which hid, I am sure, 
as gentle a nature as ever killed an enemy and loved a friend. 
So are some men made. It was easy to see he loved this 
band of young lions under his command, and that they 
thought all the world of him and would do desperate things 
to get a word of praise from the "old man," as they called 
him. I looked down the line of these faces and felt sorry 
for the Germans in their sector. Outside were the men 
who had just come back from one of the night's raids. One 
of the officers with me laughed as he looked at them, and 
said, "You can't beat those boys. Look at them mouching 
around just as they do on their farms at home. They take 
everything as it comes and don't alter by a hair's-breadth, 
and carry on in this bloody war as though it were their 
normal way of life." 

The signallers were going up for the next night's raid. 
In single file up a duck-board, with their steel hats aslant 
and squared jaws. One of them grinned as he passed, but 
the others were grave, with a look of importance. 

In a hut nearby an Australian officer was interrogating 
men of the raid that had just been done. One by one they 


came inside, with tousled hair and mud on their clothes, 
after an hour or two's sleep. 

"Did you see any dead in the trench?" asked the officer, 
and the answer was, "Two, in the front-line trench." "How 
much dead ?" asked the officer. "Oh, fresh," said the man, 
''killed by the barrage, I guess." 

"Trenches bad ?" was the next question. "Full of water," 
said the man. "Like to live in them?" "Should hate to," 
said the man. The questions were simple and direct. The 
answers were simple and direct. There was no gulf of 
etiquette or constraint between the officer and the men. 
They understood each other. 

There were three raids done by the Australians the night 
before last and one last night, and the story of them shows 
the meaning of this night raiding and the things that hap- 
pen. The place to be attacked in the most important raid 
was a system of trenches to the north of the River Lys, op- 
posite the village of Warneton, which is in German hands, 
and across the La Basseville-Warneton road. The raiders 
moved up in the darkness to the point of assembly, and it 
was slow going and an anxious time for the officers during 
the wait for the moment to attack. The German rocket 
lights were rising and falling, and if the assembly were seen 
it would mean many casualties and certain failure. Two 
of these lights fell right into the middle of a party and 
made a white glare over them, so that the officers cursed 
beneath their breath and expected the worst. But the 
enemy did not see them, and nothing happened until, at 
nearly midnight, the bombardment started. 

"It was a barrage of perfect accuracy, better than Mes- 
sines," said one of the officers, "and the men were astound- 
ingly close to it, but did not get hurt. Then they made their 
dash in small groups, which knew exactly what points they 
had to reach, all working together like a professional foot- 
ball team, with centre-forwards and half-backs covering the 
field of attack, insuring clean flanks, securing blocks in the 


enemy's support trench to prevent the enemy coming up, 
and working down the communication trench from the front 
line to the support, and going straight to the strong points 
to knock out the machine-guns. " 

As soon as the dash was made rockets went up from the 
German lines, and everything was in a white light. The 
front trench was entered, and at a strong point on the right 
there was a sharp fight for a machine-gun. The enemy 
here got up on to the parapet, and as the Australians drew 
near hurled bombs at them. The Australians answered 
with bombs and rifle-fire, and captured the strong point 
with its machine-gun, and blew up the dug-outs. They 
cleaned up the front line, and came across several dead and 
one live man, a poor, trembling fellow of eighteen, who had 
been in the army for twelve months. Other parties worked 
up the communication trench, and came across a dug-out 
inhabited by the enemy. "Come out of it," they shouted, 
but the enemy would not come out. An explosive charge 
was put down the entrance, and now they will never come 
out. Here and there the mopping-up men met with re- 
sistance, but it was easily overpowered. In one dug-out 
they found a quartermaster's stores, and in the support line 
two machine-guns, which they took back with them. Small 
parties of the enemy defended themselves with bombs, but 
none of the Australians was hit, and about fifty Germans 
were killed. An officer and four prisoners were taken at 
one point, and six men elsewhere. The officer wore the 
Iron Cross, but was in extreme fear, and small blame to 
him. All the trenches were in a bad state, and did not 
show signs of recent work. 

Another Australian raid was carried out further north 
by Gapaard, and the men had to work round a crater full of 
water in the road which led up to the German line. South 
of this road the ground was very sloppy and the going slow, 
but there was no machine-gun fire against them, and they 
only found two men alive in this sector, both of them half 


mad with fear. They were brought back as prisoners, and 
the Australians returned after a thorough search without a 

A queer incident happened on this sector of the Front 
a few days ago. It began when the Germans tried to am- 
bush one of our patrols working between two outposts, 
whose footsteps they could hear scrunching over the frozen 
puddles. The Australians retaliated for this attempt, and 
presently from a German outpost a Red Cross flag waved. 
No notice was taken at first, but after the sign had been re- 
peated several times an Australian sergeant took off his 
tunic, in order not to show any shoulder badge, and walked 
out into No Man's Land towards the German flag. From 
that side came one of the enemy's ambulance men, a non- 
commissioned officer, who said that there were five wounded 
Germans in an outpost just out of sight below the slope. 
He wanted leave to fetch them in by daylight without being 
shot from our post opposite. This was allowed, and a mes- 
sage of thanks was thrown over afterwards. But the fol- 
lowing day our outpost nearest to the place where the men 
had been wounded was blown out by gun-fire. 

These are small incidents, happening often enough along 
the lines, but not officially recorded. They are of no great 
importance in the vast scale of the war, but they reveal, 
more perhaps than big battles, the human nature of the 
soldiers on both sides of the line, because they are more 
individual. It is a human nature full of strange contradic- 
tions and eccentricities of character. 

One of the prisoners brought down yesterday morning 
was distressed lest he should lose a charm he wore round 
his neck. He explained that it made him proof against 
shell-fire, bombs, rifle grenades, bayonets, and butt-ends. 
He had found it very useful in this war, and as a proof of 
its virtues pointed to himself, as a prisoner safe until the 
war shall end. 


March io 
Up to this evening when I write, no further attacks by the 
enemy have followed his futile attempts to capture and hold 
our positions south of Houthulst Forest and on the Polder- 
hoek Ridge, for which his troops fought very fiercely on 
Friday last, and all through Saturday night by Polderhoek. 
It would be curious to know what their battalion and divi- 
sional commanders think of the operations at this moment, 
when they are writing their reports of these actions, which 
have now died out into artillery retaliation and harassing 
fire, and when we have re-established our lines completely 
in both places, after most gallant fighting by our men. The 
net result for the enemy has been complete failure to hold 
a yard of ground, most severe losses in dead and wounded, 
and a revelation of incompetent command. Both attacks 
seem to have been botched by the commanders, who ordered 
their men forward into death-traps. 

We now know that it was planned to make attacks on the 
morning of February 28 at Houthulst Forest and at Polder- 
hoek, and both operations were probably schemed out on a 
bigger scale than actually was launched. They were 
frustrated on that date by the formidable barrages which 
our guns laid down, making the assembly of the German 
troops impossible and keeping their front and support lines 
under violent fire. The enemy's artillery replied heavily, 
and used gas shells in order to silence our batteries, but 
without the desired effect. 

As far as the Polderhoek attack is concerned, it seems 
that the German officers in that sector got the impression 
that their plans had been revealed to us, because they 
paraded their men and told them that the attack had been 
postponed owing to information having reached us from 
deserters. It was not very cheering news for men about to 
come into the open against us, and they must have started 
with a moral handicap. Nevertheless they came forward 
in assault south-east of Houthulst Forest on Friday morn- 
ing, at four o'clock, with an obstinate determination to 


seize a salient which we held there. Their infantry move- 
ment was preceded by very violent gun-fire over our out- 
posts and front-line system of trenches, which were lightly 
held, but in spite of this pounding of the ground, our 
machine-guns caught their advancing wave and broke it. 

On the right the assault was checked, but on the left the 
German storm troops, armed with flammenwerfer or flame 
machines, which made a line of fire in front of them, de- 
bouched from the forest and succeeded in piercing our out- 
post positions. The party who established themselves here 
numbered about 300, and they brought up machine-guns 
and large supplies of bombs in order to resist our counter- 
attacks, which they knew would follow quickly. 

The English troops who made the first attempt to dis- 
lodge the intruders were reinforced later by the King's 
Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Koylies, as they are 
called for short, who made a separate counter-attack with ir- 
resistible spirit. They advanced upon the enemy cheering 
and shouting, and the Germans, who had. shown consider- 
able courage until then, seemed to lose their nerve and ran 
back part of the way without waiting for the Yorkshire 
lads to reach them. The Koylies followed them steadily 
and quickly, in spite of machine-gun and rifle fire, and the 
enemy's barrage, and drove them back further and did not 
halt until they had restored our line and got beyond the 
original German outposts. Meanwhile on this Friday 
morning down at Polderhoek there was no infantry move- 
ment and only heavy harassing fire from German guns along 
the Ypres-Menin road and the neighbouring battlefield. It 
was not until six o'clock on Friday evening that the Ger- 
man troops of the 18th Reserve Division were sent for- 
ward on a narrow front in order to seize the nose-shaped 
spur of the Polderhoek Ridge. The preceding barrage- 
fire was extremely heavy, smashing up the ground and 
girdling the ridge with shell splinters, and under cover of 
this the German storm troops obtained a lodging in a 
trench on the northern edge of the ridge where they main- 


tained their position through the evening and part of the 
night with bombs and machine-guns. 

It was the Royal Fusiliers who made the first counter- 
attacks against them, and there was some fierce bomb fight- 
ing at close quarters, in which the Fusiliers behaved with 
great gallantry. Trench-mortars were brought into action 
by our troops, and they must have caused many casualties 
in the enemy's position. 

The King's Royal Rifles made the final counter-attack 
which drove the enemy out before dawn yesterday morn- 
ing. They advanced with a most determined courage, and 
the enemy broke and retired before them, leaving their 
dead. By an early hour on Saturday morning we had 
gained back everything which the German storm troops had 
seized in their first rush. The assaults were not repeated, 
and the gradual quieting down of the enemy's artillery was 
a confession of failure. Some of our officers had a narrow 
escape from death. They belonged to a company head- 
quarters, and the dug-out was broken by three direct hits 
of large shells, so that the head-cover collapsed on top of 
them and they were entombed. The rescue parties who 
dug them out did not expect to find one of them alive, but 
when they opened a way they found them all unhurt ex- 
cept for shocks and bruises. So ends the brief record of 
the German assaults. It was a wretched, futile business as 
far as the enemy is concerned. It was apparently not 
planned on a big scale, and had only a limited objective; 
but the complete failure of these two attacks are encourag- 
ing to us, and show that the German troops are not better 
men now than when it was our turn to attack, and that our 
men should be more than a match for them in defensive 
warfare as well as in assault. 

March ii 
The enemy's gun-fire is increasing in violence along some 
sectors of the Front, and he has been shelling heavily about 
Armentieres, Neuve Chapelle, Fleurbaix, and other parts in 


the centre of our line, but apart from a few raids on our 
outposts, no infantry action has followed his efforts, which 
were frustrated on Friday and Saturday at Houthulst 
Forest and Polderhoek. But his guns are tuning up, and 
the weather is so fine and bright that he may be tempted 
to take advantage of it. Our troops are on the alert all 
along the line, and send up warning rockets when there is 
any sign of movement in No Man's Land. 

The SOS signal went up this morning south of Armen- 
tieres, and our guns answered it with a protective barrage 
of intense fire, and so far the enemy has not left his trenches 

A few days ago there was a similar incident south of St- 
Ouentin. The quietude of this part of the line was sud- 
denly broken by red rockets flaming out above the folds of 
earth where both sides hold the outposts in view of the 
great cathedral, which rises like a mediaeval castle through 
the morning mists and the evening shadow-world. Some- 
thing had started the enemy, and his infantry were calling 
for the guns by firing clusters of fire-balls. 

Further along the line a raid, or a German patrol party, 
seen crawling across No Man's Land, was the cause of 
signals going up in our lines, and the gunners on both sides 
saw the rockets, and messages were telephoned through to 
batteries and groups. The country was swept with fire, and 
for two hours there was a storm of shells from our guns and 
theirs. Then it died down, for no masses of field-grey men 
moved into the open, and no men in khaki went over the 
top. It was a false alarm on both sides, but showed the 
vigilance of the outposts and the power of the guns which 
lie low and say nothing for most days of the week. 

I have been in that part of the line for two or three days, 
below St.-Ouentin. Here, as all along the Front, every 
man is watching out for the least sign of attack, but I found 
among them a kind of incredulity that old Fritz should try 
any monkey tricks against their front, because of the 
natural strength of their positions and the completeness 


of their defensive preparations. This country is so steeped 
in a slumberous peacefulness on these fine days of spring 
that it is hard to believe that on any morning a fury of gun- 
fire should suddenly blast its slopes, and that out of the life- 
less silence of the German lines, out of their still woods, and 
out of the ruined villages on the hill-sides, or in the valleys, 
waves of men should come to face the tattoo of our machine- 
guns. I walked through a copse on the edge of No Man's 
Land and looked through the twigs at the enemy's posi- 
tions. Nothing stirred there. In the light of the after- 
noon sun the broken walls of the villages on the German 
side were as white as chalk, and there were two mebus, or 
pill-boxes, very clear against the black shadow of the trees 
behind them. Only a few guns were firing — theirs as well 
as ours. Machine-guns were chattering up in the blue 
where aeroplanes were on the wing, and German "Archies" 
fired at them, and the report of the small shells went echo- 
ing down the valley of the Oise, like the twanging of deep 
harp strings. But the silence was intense between these 
noises of things "going off," and into the silence, quite close 
to me, there came the warbling of a thrush singing the spring 
song in the twilight, with merry little notes, without a heart- 
beat for the strife of men. A queer contrast on the edge 
of No Man's Land. 

"Jolly perfect weather," said a young gunner officer, 
further up the line where, by walking up a slope, one can 
see the white cliff-like walls of the St.-Quentin Cathedral, 
very ghostly and insubstantial through the haze of the day. 
I think the spring song was in this fellow's heart, also, as 
he sat in the doorway of his hut, looking out to his gun- 

"Not a bad spot, this," he said, letting his eyes wander 
round the pastoral scene. 

It is a spot well within range of the German guns, and in 
the event of a German attack it is the duty of this young 
officer to do what he calls "the V.C. stunt" by keeping his 
battery in action until he can see the whites of his enemy's 


eyes. But he was not worrying about that. The sun was 
shining, and it was a topping day, and good to be alive. 
He had a gramophone in his hut, and we listened to a piece 
by Kriesler and a 'cello solo by some one else, and a little 
ragtime to bring us down to earth again. The enemy was 
within short range, and he might attack in the morning, but 
it was a very good gramophone, and music is like water to 
parched souls. All along the line our men are like that 
gunner officer. They are keeping a sharp look-out, but 
they are not worrying before it is time to worry, and they 
are confident — as this gunner and his brother officers are, 
and all the men I have lately met — that if the enemy makes 
a big attack he will be mowed down on his way, and will 
pay a frightful price for any gain of ground. It is in that 
spirit that our armies wait. 

March 17 
A whole month of fine weather has gone by and the 
enemy's offensive operations have been limited to a number 
of small raids, a demonstration attack near Passchendaele 
which ended in disaster, and concentrations of fire with gas 
and high explosives on several sectors of our front. How- 
ever, we still have full evidence of the enemy's plans as far 
as military preparations are concerned for attacks along 
our front. There is very little about the enemy's organiza- 
tion movement and work behind his lines which our armies 
do not know. The intelligence branch of our service has 
become extraordinary scientific, and day by day the military 
life and intentions of the enemy lie open to it like an open 
book written in cipher of which most of the code words are 
known. The enemy is afraid of this knowledge of ours 
for many things, and quite lately he has been staggered 
by the accuracy of our information which has discovered 
his plan before it could be carried out. What is not so 
easy to know is the political brain behind the military 
weapon, and until one knows the secret of that psychology 
one cannot tell exactly how far the plans of the German 


army chiefs will be modified. It is probable that only 
three men in Germany have the controlling decision, and 
it is likely that those three are at the present moment torn 
by many doubts and fears, so that their decision is delayed 
and perplexed. Meanwhile there are many things as clear 
as sunlight from a military point of view. One thing is 
the gradual piling up by the enemy of his numbers in men 
and guns on this front, and all that that involves in work 
and movement behind his lines. Another thing is the 
spirit of his troops and of their quality in attack. That, I 
think, is a problem that must be causing grave 
to the German High Command. For it is very doubtful 
whether the main body of the German armies are equal to 
the moral strain of a prolonged attack on the Western 
Front. Not since the second Battle of Ypres have the 
Germans attempted a big attack against the British, and 
nothing but the bloody failure of Verdun against the 
French. For a year the enemy's High Command has had 
to adopt the system of using special storm troops, picked 
men of exceptional courage and training, to counter-attack 
during one of our battles, but in a big German offensive 
any hope of victory or defeat would depend upon the ordi- 
nary divisional troops and not on special bodies trained 
for assault. Many of those troops are the wreckage of di- 
visions shattered by French and British gun-fire and sent 
to the Eastern Front for rest, and while there milked for 
more than a year of all their finest men as drafts for Flan- 
ders and Champagne. The residue left after that handling 
cannot be first class. We know that much of it is weak. 
It has been proved by our recent raids and by the failure 
of German attacks on a small scale that the troops engaged 
are utterly war weary and are extremely disinclined to 

These things must not be exaggerated. Germany still 
has good men, many strong fighting divisions, and many 
officers who believe that a successful offensive is possible. 
But for an offensive on a great scale the best divisions are 


dependent on the weakest, and I am firmly convinced that 
in the mass attacks the enemy in the long run will be at the 
mercy of that weak and tired strain. 

There is another thing which should give the German 
pause. It is the power of our defence and the spirit of 
our men. He knows a good deal about the power of our 
defence. Like ours, his intelligence service is scientific, and, 
in modern warfare, not many secrets may be kept. So he 
knows that we have defensive systems which will demand 
a great sacrifice of life before they can be overwhelmed. 
Of the fighting quality of our men he knows enough, not 
only from last year's fighting in Flanders, when all the 
luck of the weather and ground was against them, but from 
recent experience in raids and counter-attacks. But the 
enemy does not know as much as I do about the present 
spirit of our men, and I would like to tell him in all sin- 
cerity. I would like to tell him that* our men, after a long 
rest from the terrific fighting of last year, are back to their 
best form again, and that from one end of the Front to 
the other they are awaiting a German offensive with an al- 
most terrible conviction that they will smash it by great 

I am not writing "hot air," of which there has been far 
too much from time to time, but the sober truth as I have 
seen it along the lines during the last six weeks or so. It 
does not matter what sector of the Front one goes to, the 
officers and men all say the same thing. They are so cer- 
tain that if the enemy comes over he will be mowed down 
in waves that they hesitate to believe that he will dare this 
adventure on their particular part of the Front. But it is 
the same on any part of the Front north and south of them, 
so that one cannot find one weak spot where there is doubt 
and anxiety. 

These men of ours know that a German attack will not 
be an amusing game for them — that it will be preceded by 
very heavy fire, and that the fighting will be hard, but they 


are utterly scornful of the idea that the Germans have a 
dog's chance of breaking through in depth. 

"We shall smash him to hell," is their grim way of put- 
ting it, and they mean what they say. 

This spirit of our men is amazing even to me, though I 
have known them since the war began its big battles. Their 
refusal to be worried before there is need to worry is an 
heroic thing which is better than the sound of trumpets 
along the roads of France. They turn the sharp edge of 
tragedy itself by the mock in their hearts, and by the vital 
way in which they enjoy the hour that is with them. They 
have made a game out of the foulest weapon in war, which 
is gas, and yesterday I wish Ludendorff had been standing 
by my side to see a mounted race with gas-masks, and how 
these English boys made sport behind the lines. 

A number of London men had arranged a gymkhana 
near their camp, while waiting for what may happen; and 
there was good comedy and good sport on a perfect after- 
noon, with the usual orchestra of gun-fire in the back- 
ground — but by luck no German aeroplane overhead to 
spoil the picture. The gas-mask race was done by about a 
score of fellows mounted on "hairies" from the Transport 
Service, whose hoofs were like thunder on the ground when 
they stretched out in a gallop, flinging the turf up behind 
them, and cheered on by crowds of London soldiers. The 
mounted men had to ride about a mile, then put on their 
masks, and at full gallop take a hurdle on their way to the 
winning-post. "There will be some casualties," said one 
of the officers before this event, and one's heart thumped 
at the sight of that wild rush of centaurs in a whirl of hair 
and hoofs. They put on their gas-masks in a second or 
two, as they rode, and looked like devils as they lay low 
over their horses' necks, with beast-like faces watching for 
the jump. Not a man fell, so far as I could see, and a 
wave of laughter followed them up the course. The scene 
was like a miniature Derby Day, and on every side I heard 
the good old Cockney accent, and the spirit of the great old 


town in a holiday mood was there on this field within range 
and sound of the guns. The general and his staff were by 
the winning-post on a Service wagon. Other wagons were 
drawn up along the course, like the coaches at Epsom, and 
crowded with young officers. Refreshment tents were on 
the other side of the field, and one tent for "Palmistry and 
Love Philtres." Tommies of London Town played at be- 
ing "bookies," and shouted out "Four to one on the field," 
or "Four to one bar one," when their officers rode out for 
a new race on their own horses and galloped down the 
straight. But laughter rang out loudest at the appearance 
of a sham general, with a fierce moustache and a yard of 
decorations across his breast and spurs as big as soup plates. 
He was mounted on a hairy mule, with long ears and a sad 
face, and followed by a comic mounted A.D.C. The real 
general returned his salute and laughed heartily. 

March 19 
The enemy is using an increasing quantity of gas shells, 
with the object of stupefying our gunners and spreading 
a zone of poison vapours over our camps near the line. It 
is an invisible menace, which puts all our men on the alert 
for any faint smell borne down the breeze or for the slight- 
est whiff of fumes causing a smart to the eyes and skin. 
But our men are conscious of the danger and are trained 
to be ready instantly at all times and in all places with an 
unfailing safeguard. They work, sleep and eat with their 
gas-masks handy, no further away than their left hip, and 
practise wearing these things on and off duty, marching, 
running, and riding. These practises produce uncanny 
scenes along the roads and in the fields of war, so inhuman 
and fantastic that if any creature came from another planet 
and visited this Western Front and fell among a group of 
these masked men busy with mysterious labour above earth, 
in dwellings dug into the hill-sides or among the ruins of 
churches, mediaeval mansions, and farmsteads smashed to 
matchwood, he would be terrified by the beast-like aspect 


of the earth's inhabitants, and believe that they were evil 
monsters who had entered into possession of man's inherit- 
ance after the destruction of his civilization. 

Our men make a game of the business — I described the 
race of the London men on the old hairies of the trans- 
port service — and I think they enjoy the hideous effect they 
make upon the passers-by. I passed a crowd of them yes- 
terday, busy with the cleaning of a lorry column, and an- 
other crowd marching back from a bath, like a battalion 
of anthropoid apes, and some gun teams at artillery prac- 
tice, with these goggles and nozzles hiding their human- 
ity. It is a good joke to them, and they compete with each 
other in the length of time they can wear the mask and the 
physical exertions they do in it, but I confess the very sight 
of them puts the wind up my back hair by its frightfulness. 

There are other queer-looking beings along the roads and 
in the fields, and truly this Western Front of ours and the 
country in its rear offer the most amazing pageant the 
world has ever seen. The Chinkies, who are road-mend- 
ing and felling timber for us in some back areas, always 
fascinate me when I pass them. In the grey mists of the 
West the children of the sun keep smiling at the strange 
life and ways out here. A motor-car with a "brass hat" 
inside appeals to their simple sense of humour, and they 
laugh like anything when a tyre bursts. They stand and 
chuckle at a battalion of marching men going up to the 
Front with their packs on, and a whistling tune on their 
lips in time to the tramp of their feet. Some comical 
thought passes in their Oriental brains. To us they are 
picturesque fellows in their padded clothes of blue cloth 
and all sorts of odds and ends of hats, from the bowler to 
the cloth cap and the billycock. 

On other roads in the rear are French x\rabs, Sene- 
galese, Annamites, and strange, soft-eyed fellows with long 
silky hair done up in a "bun," and black men from the 
African coasts. They are labour companies. 

On the edge of the great desolation, among the wreck- 


age of French villages and by the fallen masonry of ruined 
churches, yellow flowers are growing between the stones, 
and birds are beginning to build their nests in the shell- 
pierced walls. Red Cross flags wave above some of these 
collections of ruin, where numberless little wooden huts 
with semicircular roofs of iron — the famous Nissen hut, 
which has become one of the most familiar objects in the 
landscape of the war zone — have been fitted in between the 
broken wall and under the shelter of tattered trees. They 
are large flags which spread out in the breeze so that Ger- 
man airmen may see them if they like, and it seemed to 
me yesterday as I motored through a great tract of this 
war-swept land in the glamorous light of the setting sun, 
that they were like the banners outside the pavilions of 
mediaeval knights, and that this Red Cross was the only 
sign of chivalry in this blasted country. 

It is in the twilight, just before darkness, that these 
places become spiritualized by an unearthly atmosphere, so 
that one has a sense of ghosts about and realizes the world 
tragedy of this stricken landscape. For miles, and scores 
of miles, one travels through deserted battlefields, and there 
is not a village standing nor a house, but only the relics 
of old trenches and earthworks and wire entanglements 
and machine-gun posts, where thousands of men once 
fought in great slaughter and where other men now live 
in holes or huts. 

An old woman was driving six lean cows across the bat- 
tle-fields of the Somme as dusk fell yesterday, and there 
was no other living thing in sight where once our battal- 
ions went forward into great fire, and no sound where once 
I heard the tumult of tremendous bombardment. But all 
these fields were haunted for me by the spirits of our men 
who fought there. It seemed a long, long time ago. Be- 
hind the lines which are drawn far beyond those old bat- 
tlefields north of Bapaume and east of Peronne there is the 
life of our armies now in being, and the pageantry of war 


has shifted to that country, more remote from civilization 
because it has this great desolation behind it. There is no 
town which our men can reach to see the light in shop win- 
dows or get a meal in an inn. They are as cut off from 
those kindly things of life as though they were among the 
craters of the moon. But out there they have improvised 
a life of their own. . Recreation huts and rest huts have 
been built near their camps. The cinema offers its thrill 
to them in a pavilion tent. 

Officers' clubs have sprung up among the ruins of out- 
landish places in long, low huts neatly built, with a few 
pictures on the walls and some easy-chairs in the reading- 
room, and a good meal at a small price, w T ith now and then 
a band to play in the soup and give a ragtime melody to 
the stewed steak and a piece of Mendelssohn with the spot- 
ted dog. In at least one town behind the Front there is 
an officers' club with little W.A.A.C.'s to wait, and an 
impressive company of staff officers with coloured arm- 
bands and many ribbons, so that the scene is like one from 
a grand opera on the war. 

Up at the Front there is not this colour and splendour, 
but I like to watch our young officers come in straight from 
the line, yet very neat and clean after a wash and brush-up, 
and with a look of cheerful boredom with things in gen- 
eral and the war in particular, though they are as keen as 
mustard at their own job. There are officers from the 
good old English battalions with clean-cut English faces, 
and Highlanders and Australians and Canadians, and an 
American or two attached in some way to our forces, as a 
medico or an engineer, and French interpreters, and some- 
times a visitor to the Front in "civvies," who gazes round 
at all this company of fighting men with eyes fresh to the 
drama of it, unconscious that all eyes are watching him 
furtively as a strange and wonderful being in clothes that 
belong to the dreams of men who sleep in dug-outs. 

The men who go out of those officers' clubs to the guns 


and the wagon-lines and the trenches and the observation 
posts and the battalion and brigade headquarters, live a 
good deal with dreams of the past or the future when this 
present shall be finished. I met a captain yesterday, a 
young Irishman, who dreams of the Blackwater river, near 
Lismore, in the South of Ireland, where he used to get 
salmon fishing, and of the time when once again he will 
go along its banks with a rod in his hand. Meanwhile he 
wants to know whether there is trout in the Somme or the 
Canche, so that he may have a little of the sport he loves 
best in the world when his battalion is resting behind the 

The Irish battalions are in good form again after their 
hard fighting in Flanders, and on the left of Bullecourt, 
where they took the Hindenburg tunnel trench in a quick 
attack. On St. Patrick's Day, two days ago, they wore 
shamrock in their caps, and the Irish pipers played to them, 
and the padre said "God save Ireland, and may there be 
peace there as well as here." 

Yesterday I found a crowd of them gathered round to 
watch a boxing-match in a field which the Jerry boys, as 
they call the enemy, had once pounded with shells. Two 
honest Irishmen prepared to knock each other about in a 
spirit of brotherly love. The ring was in the open air, 
like a scene in the old prize-fighting days, and the seconds 
flapped towels into the faces of their champions and 
sprinkled their bodies with water according to the best tra- 
ditions. It was a hard fight, not without a show of red 
blood from ears and noses, which aroused the laughter of 
the onlookers and seemed to amuse the pugilists, but after 
the fourth round the Game Chicken, who was a tough old 
bird, was hopelessly done, and his adversary, who was 
taller and longer in the reach, was more than his match. 

"Time to end the fight," said the Irish brigadier. The 
referee agreed. The seconds came into the ring and threw 
up the sponge. The defeated man got most of the ap- 


plause, as one finds in good sporting company, and called 
out a joke or two to his supporters to show he was none 
the worse for his hammering. 

So our men make the best of life each day while they 
are waiting for the menace of death to speak from the 
quietude of the German lines — the most frightful menace 
that has ever threatened us. 


The Storm Breaks 

March 21 
A German offensive against our front has begun. At 
about five o'clock this morning the enemy began an intense 
bombardment of our lines and batteries on a very wide 
front — something like sixty miles — from the country south 
of the Scarpe and to the west of Bullecourt in the neigh- 
bourhood of Croisilles, and as far south as our positions 
between St.-Quentin and our right flank on the Oise. 

After several hours of this hurricane shelling, in which 
it is probable that a great deal of gas was used with the 
intention of creating a poison-gas atmosphere around our 
gunners and forward posts, the German infantry advanced 
and developed attacks against a number of strategical 

Among the places against which they seem to have di- 
rected their chief efforts are Bullecourt — the scene of so 
much hard fighting last year by the Australians, Scottish, 
and London troops — Lagnicourt, and Noreuil (both west 
of Cambrai), where they once before penetrated our lines 
and were slaughtered in great numbers, the St.-Quentin 
Ridge, which was on the right of the Cambrai fighting, the 
two villages of Ronssoy and Hargicourt, south of the 
Cambrai salient, and the country south of St.-Quentin. 

It is impossible to say yet how far the enemy will en- 



deavour to follow up the initial movement of his troops 
over any ground he may gain in the first rush, or with what 
strength he will press forward his supporting divisions and 
fling his storm troops into the struggle. But the attack al- 
ready appears to be on a formidable scale, with a vast 
amount of artillery and masses of men, and there is reason 
to believe that it is indeed the beginning of the great of- 
fensive advertised for so long a time and with such fero- 
cious menaces by the enemy's agents in neutral countries. 
If so it is a bid for a decisive victory on the Western Front, 
at no matter what sacrifice, and with the fullest brutalities 
of every engine of war gathered together during months 
of preparation and liberated entirely for this front by the 
downfall of Russia. To-day I can give no details of the 
fighting, but will reserve all attempts to give a clear in- 
sight into the situation until my next message, when out 
of the hurricane of fire now spreading over sixty miles or 
more of the battlefields there will come certain knowledge 
of the fighting. At the moment there are only scraps of 
news from one part of the Front and another, unconfirmed 
rumours, reports of ground given or taken, and the vague 
tidings of men hard pressed, but holding out against re- 
peated onslaughts. It would be a wicked, senseless thing 
to make use of these uncertain fragments from many 
sources, and some hours must pass before it becomes clear 
how much the enemy has gained by his first blow and how 
much he has failed to gain against the heroic resistance of 
our troops. The immediate endeavour of the enemy seems 
obvious. It is an enlargement of his strategical plan in 
the attack of November 30 against the lines we held after 
the first Cambrai battle, and it covers the same ground, on 
a much wider boundary. He appears to be assaulting both 
wings of the salient between the Scarpe and the south end 
of the Flesquieres Ridge in order to cut off all the inter- 
vening ground, which includes Havrincourt Wood and 
Velu Wood, the line south of Morchies and Beaumetz, and 
a stretch of the country east and south-east of Bapaume, 



down to St.-Quentin and the Oise, which he abandoned to 
us in his retreat last March after the battles of the Somme. 


By a rapid turning movement from both wings he would 
hope to capture many of our men and guns. It is a men- 


ace which cannot be taken lightly, and at the present mo- 
ment our troops are fighting not only for their own lives, 
but also for the fate of England and all our race. 

During the last few weeks I have been along the sectors 
now involved in this battle, and have met the men who 
to-day are fighting to hold their lines against the enemy's 
storm troops under the fury of his fire. I have described 
the spirit of those men of ours, their confidence, their 
splendid faith, their quiet and cheerful courage, their lack 
of worry until this hour should come, the curious incre- 
dulity they had that the enemy would dare to attack them 
because of the strength of their positions, and of our great 
gun-power. But though many of them were incredulous 
of a great attack, they had been fully warned and fully 
trained, and were on the alert day and night. By labour 
that never ceased on the northern side of the battle front, 
they wired-in their positions with acres of wire and 
strengthened their defences and made their gun-positions, 
and wore their gas-masks so often and so long that it has 
become a habit with them. 

His attack to-day has been no surprise, for it has been 
expected every day, though many people without evidence, 
the amateur critic and the arm-chair strategist, have pro- 
fessed to know that it was all bluff, without the same ex- 
cuse of courage which made some of our men doubtful, 
though upon them would fall the brunt of it. It is not 
bluff, so far as to-day's battle shows, but appears to be the 
real thing in all its brutal force. Many thousands of our 
men are engaged in defence and counter-attack, and the 
one thing that should be certain is their supreme valour, 
whatever may happen. They will fight to the death to safe- 
guard our lines, and whatever ground the enemy may take 
in his first assaults will have to be paid for by enormous 
sacrifice and held, if held at all, against counter-attacks 
which our men will make with most fierce and obstinate 

The heart of all the people of our race must go out to 


these battalions of boys upon whom our destiny depends, 
and who now, while I write, are making a wall with their 
bodies against the evil and the power of our enemy. 

March 22 
The enemy made no infantry attack last night, but heavy 
fighting is now being resumed after the lifting of the fog 
this morning, and our troops are heavily engaged on the 
right of our line near St.-Quentin. 

The beginning of his offensive yesterday was on a co- 
lossal scale, not only in the width of his line of attack, 
which extended for fifty miles, apart from the area of gun- 
fire, but in the numbers of his men and guns. He flung 
the full weight of a mighty army against us, closely 
crowded and in depth of supporting troops, who advanced 
in mass after mass. Nearly forty divisions have already 
been identified, and it is certain that many more have been 
engaged. In proportions of men we were enormously out- 
numbered, so that our troops have had extremely hard 
fighting, and for this reason the obstinacy of their resist- 
ance in many parts of the line is a wonderful feat, and 
shows how splendid is their courage and discipline under 
the fiercest ordeal which has ever faced British soldiers. 

Nine German divisions were hurled against three of ours 
at one part of the line — the 34th, 59th, and 6th Divisions 
on each side of Bullecourt — while in another part two of 
our divisions — the 41st and 19th, between Queant and 
Doignies — were attacked by eight of the enemy's. They 
were all German storm troops, among them the Guards, 
trained for many months past for this great assault. They 
were all, so our men tell me, in brand-new uniforms, as 
though they were entering the war zone for the first time, 
and they advanced over No Man's Land in dense masses 
which never faltered until they were shattered by our ma- 
chine-gun fire, and they were followed by successive waves. 

"They were like bees out of a hive," said a young sol- 
dier who saw them crossing the open country within 400 


yards of him. "The more one shot down the more seemed 
to come." It was a return to the old methods of the Ger- 
man army in the early days of the war at Mons and La 
Cateau, and afterwards at Verdun. Indeed, it is surpris- 
ing that the enemy has introduced no novelty of attack, no 
new frightfulness, no Tanks, no specially invented gas. He 
relied yesterday morning on the power of his artillery and 
the weight of his infantry assault. What wire was not 
cut by his guns was attacked by the snipers of his assault 
troops, standing in front of the wire, spaced by their of- 
ficers, and mown down repeatedly by our fire. The sup- 
porting waves advanced over the bodies of their dead and 
wounded, and other masses came behind them, and the 
German commanders were ruthless in the way they sacri- 
ficed life in the hope of overwhelming our defence by sheer 
weight of numbers. They had an exceeding power in guns. 
Opposite three of our divisions they had iooo, and in most 
parts of the line one gun to every twelve or fifteen yards 
of front. In spite of the tremendous bombardments of 
this war nothing has ever been experienced by British 
troops like the length and width of the barrage laid down 
upon our defensive positions yesterday morning at five 
o'clock, and continued throughout the day without a pause, 
except to jump forward to let the infantry attack and the 
guns advance. Each battalion of Germans was provided 
with a heavy number of trench-mortars dug into their 
trenches, and it was with these that they did most of their 
wire cutting during a four hours' fire. At the same time 
they concentrated most of their heavy guns upon our bat- 
tery positions, ammunition dumps, roads of communica- 
tion, and villages in the back areas. They had brought up 
a number of long-range guns, probably naval guns from 
their Grand Fleet, and their shell-fire was scattered as far 
back as twenty-eight miles behind the lines. 

It was during the last hour of the bombardment that 
they poured out gas shells, and they continued to concen- 
trate gas about our batteries and reserve trenches through- 


out the day, so that they filled the atmosphere with poison- 
ous clouds. With this last weapon they failed to achieve 
the success for which they had hoped. Our men had been 
trained for many weeks, as I have described in other mes- 
sages, to work for long stretches in their gas-masks, and 
this was of priceless help to them yesterday, when they 
were put to a supreme test of endurance. Many of our men 
had their masks on for hours, and fought in them. One 
man told me that his battalion on the left of the attack 
wore them from four o'clock in the morning until mid- 
day. Other men wore them for three and four hours at a 
stretch, and then were only relieved of them by being 
wounded and carried down behind the lines. Gunners also 
worked in them, carrying up ammunition to the batteries, 
laying the guns and firing with these nozzles over their 
mouths and noses, and these goggles on their eyes. It 
was an absolute proof of the efficacy of our box respirators. 
Very few men received the poison into their lungs and 
eyes, and there were only six cases this morning in one of 
our largest casualty clearing-stations which receives the 
wounded from a wide area. It is with deep thankfulness 
that this may be recorded, for the enemy's terrible prophe- 
cies of a gas which would penetrate our masks have been 
proved false. 

The main object of the enemy's attack on the left of the 
battle- front against the 6th and 4th Corps was to bite off 
the Bullecourt salient and pierce through our three main 
lines of defence below Croisilles and St. Leger, and turn 
the line so that he could capture Henin Hill with his old 
Hindenburg tunnel trench. It seems to have been at three 
minutes past five exactly yesterday morning that his bom- 
bardment opened in depth with terrific storms of high ex- 
plosives, followed by gas shelling. He put special con- 
centrations of fire on the ruined villages of Croisilles, 
Ecoust, and other places in back areas. At 8.45 the enemy 
was reported to be forcing through our outpost lines, but 
he was driven out on the extreme left by an immediate 


counter-attack by the 59th, 34th, and 6th Divisions. Later 
it was reported that masses of men were advancing to the 
left of Bullecourt, and our aviators, who were flying very 
low on account of the white mists which were rising from 
the ground like smoke, reported that they had seen our 
men standing to in their trenches, and the enemy thickly 
packed in the trenches to the north of Bullecourt. They 
never made ground on the extreme left by the old Hin- 
denburg line, and a very gallant division of men drove them 
back when they attempted to cross No Man's Land, bombed 
them out when they entered a forward trench, and did not 
lose a foot of their ground. 

A little to the right of them the Bullecourt salient was 
utterly smothered with fire and filled with flame and smoke 
and earth, like one vast volcano. No wire could stand that 
storm of explosives, and no man could hold such a posi- 
tion. In all parts of our line such a state of things had 
been to some extent foreseen, and our outposts — such of 
them as remained alive or uncaptured after the opening of 
the storm — were able to fall back upon battle positions to 
the rear, where there was a stronger defensive system, and 
time to rally for counter-attacks against the enemy, who 
had to come over the open under our fire with the great dif- 
ficulty of bringing forward his guns. This was done wher- 
ever possible, the men retiring in good order and with mag- 
nificent courage, under the enemy's barrage, and when the 
enemy followed on, bringing forward his light artillery 
with the support lines of infantry, our guns slashed down 
his ranks and left masses of dead on the field. Our airmen 
all report that they have seen large numbers of German 
dead heaped up amidst the debris of our wire and in the 
open ground. But still they came on with a most fanatical 
courage of sacrifice, and when the first lines fell their places 
were filled up by others, and our guns and machine-gun fire 
could not kill them fast enough. 

By about midday there had been hard fighting in or 
about the ruins of Bullecourt, Ecoust and Noreuii. Early 


in the afternoon the enemy were seen, to the number of 
about 3000, in a sunken road between Noreuil and Lagni- 
court, and sheltered in deep shell-holes near those places 
which were once villages, but now, as you must understand, 
are merely barren sites on which only a few bricks stand. 
This meant that the troops holding part of the ground 
round Noreuil had been pushed back, and that after a strong 
and heroic defence the survivors had had to fall back 
towards the line of Beaumetz, Morchies, and Vaulx. At 
half-past five in the afternoon the enemy made another at- 
tack in massed formation, crowding down the slopes of the 
Sensee valley from Cherisy and Fontaine Wood, striking 
down to the north of Vaulx and trying to press forward 
all along this left line of the attack. Our gunners fired 
into them with open sights, cutting swathes in their ranks 
and checking their tide of assault. When darkness fell 
they had not as yet gained anything like the objectives 
marked out for them on their maps, as we know from those 
captured, and during the night they made no further at- 

This morning there was fierce fighting round St. Leger, 
and our troops took some prisoners and four machine-guns. 
Up to the time I write I know of no further attack on this 
left side of the battle-front. 

From Noreuil eastwards from Lagnicourt round the 
bend of the Cambrai salient the fighting was of the same 
intensity. The enemy by great sacrifices of life was able 
to penetrate our first defensive system in the neighbour- 
hood of Lagnicourt, Boursies, and Hargicourt, against the 
66th and 24th Divisions. A number of Tanks made a bril- 
liant counter-attack before dark last evening and recaptured 
some ground near Doignies. The defence of our men on 
the Third Army Front was everywhere splendid, and the 
German High Command, flushed with victories over weak- 
er troops on other fronts such as their easy victories in Rus- 
sia, have been taught that on the Western Front they must 


pay a frightful price for any gain of ground, however small 
and unavailing. 

A specially heavy attack was made yesterday by six 
German divisions on one British division south of St.- 
Quentin. Here along the line of Itancourt, Barisis, and 
La Fere, on the Oise, we had the 14th, 18th, and 58th 
(London) Divisions; and north of the 14th (Light Infan- 
try) Division was the 36th (Ulster) Division. Here the 
enemy penetrated our positions, and after desperate fight- 
ing the British line was withdrawn to the strong position 
behind the canal, between St.-Quentin and the Oise. 

In spite of the extremely hard fighting yesterday, the 
spirit of our men remains good, and some of them are 
proud of their achievements in having checked the first 
onrush of this massed attack, upon which all German hopes 
were fastened. They know what lies ahead — fighting just 
as hard — but the supporting troops I saw to-day going up 
to the battle were chatting and smiling among themselves 
with a calm confidence which was wonderful to see. Their 
bands were playing them up as though on a day of festival, 
and none but those who know our men in bad times and 
good would have believed that these lads were going into 
the greatest struggle of the war. 

The lightly wounded men have only one interest; it is 
to know how the day has gone, and when I told them that 
the British Army was still holding together, they said 
"Thank goodness for that." 

They are all convinced that the enemy's losses are very 
great. "We were tired of killing them," said a gunner 
who had fired into their masses with open sights, and they 
hope that the enemy will break himself if he continues at 
the same rate of loss. 

March 23 
The enemy has been continuing his attacks all day along 
the whole of the battle-front, and has made further prog- 
ress at various points, in spite of the heroic resistance of 


our troops. Greatly outnumbered, owing to the enormous 
concentration of enemy divisions, constantly reinforced and 
passing through each other, so that fresh regiments may 
pursue the assaults, our men have been fighting bitterly for 
three days, and have inflicted severe losses at every part 
of the battle-line, so that where the enemy has advanced 
he has passed on through many of his own dead and 
wounded. But, in view of the enemy breaking through 
our defensive systems, our divisions have fallen back to 
new ground. They have done this under the continuous 
and increasing pressure of the enemy, and along many parts 
of the line their movement has been covered by rear-guard 
actions of most glorious heroism, small bodies of men some- 
times sacrificing themselves to the last in order to gain 
time for their comrades, and though entirely surrounded 
in some cases by the German storm troops, have defended 
the redoubts and outposts for many hours, afterwards pour- 
ing out machine-gun fire upon the advancing waves and 
raking their ranks. 

So it was yesterday round Henin Hill, for which the 
enemy fought with desperate obstinacy, sending forward 
column after column of men from Lagnicourt and Croisilles 
under the fire of our artillery, which slaughtered them in 
large numbers, and against those machine-gunners of ours 
on the hill and in neighbouring positions. Our infantry 
did wonders in defending this hill, which guards the way 
of the Scarpe Valley, and here, as I shall tell later, there 
was intense and prolonged fighting yesterday and to-day, 
in which our men withstood the repeated onslaughts of vast 
numbers, holding out and counter-attacking with an un- 
conquerable spirit to death. 

So it was also on the right and in the centre of our bat- 
tle-front to-day, and since the beginning of those tremen- 
dous actions three mornings ago. Until now I have been 
able to tell very little about what has happened on the right, 
because the situation north and south of St.-Ouentin was 
utterly vague and uncertain and in a state of confused move- 


ment. Today I have been on the right, and can now give 
a narrative of the southern part of the battle. 

It began, as along the whole sweep of the battle, with 
six hours' bombardment and intense gas shelling of our 
batteries, and afterwards an attack was launched by over- 
whelming numbers of German storm troops. Our battle- 
line was held by some three divisions — the 6ist, 30th, and 
36th (Ulster) — from a point south of Pontruet to Itan- 
court, south of the St.-Quentin Canal. Along this sector 
the enemy line had been held before the attack by three di- 
visions also, but the night before the battle they were re- 
inforced until eight German divisions were massed there. 
They were ready for assault with eight divisions against 
eight battalions, one division against a battalion of ours on 
a front of some 2000 yards. I believe it is greater strength 
than has ever been brought into battle on such a narrow 
front during the whole of this war. 

By the splendid work of our Intelligence Corps it was 
known that the attack was coming and that the enemy had 
assembled, and advantage was taken of this knowledge to 
pour a heavy fire over the enemy lines during the night and 
to sweep with gas the town of St.-Quentin, in which his 
troops were crowded. This, as we know from prisoners, 
caused him heavy casualties, though it did not suffice to 
break up his organization and plans. The position of some 
of our batteries was slightly changed to avoid the German 
bombardment at dawn, and this was effective, as the enemy 
poured a frightful fire of high explosives on to these em- 
placements, which were then empty. But a number of 
field-batteries were left in order to cover any withdrawal 
of our outpost line, and these heroic gunners served their 
batteries to the last, until the enemy had swept over them. 

On this sector of the Front, north and south of St.- 
Quentin and opposite our line further south, the enemy's 
intention, as we know from prisoners, was to reach the 
line of the St.-Quentin Canal (or Crozat Canal as it is some- 
times called) on the first day, and then advance in quick 


stages westwards, the rate of progress to be eight miles on 
the first day, twelve on the second, and twenty on the third. 
In spite of their intense gun-fire of massed batteries, sup- 
ported by Austrian howitzers and large numbers of heavy 
trench-mortars, the enemy plans were thwarted as far as 
this rapidity of progress was concerned. The heavy fog 
of the early morning on Thursday threw his assault troops 
at some points into wild confusion. His first line of as- 
sault — each division apparently advancing with two regi- 
ments in line, each with two battalions in line, with other 
strength of the division following in depth, with light ma- 
chine-gun companies at intervals of ioo yards, and then 
heavy machine-guns and field artillery — sometimes became 
hopelessly mixed up with the third and fourth lines, while 
the right battalions were confused with their left battal- 
ions. This fog checked the pace of their onslaught for a 
time, but only for a time. The enemy's troops were ut- 
terly ignorant of the line. They were brought up in the 
night from a long distance behind, and even the officers 
had only sealed orders and a scrap of map marked with a 
green line, showing their objectives. 

The German High Command relied entirely on weight of 
guns and man-power to break our resistance, and the driv- 
ing power of the whole monstrous machine in movement. 
To this he does, indeed, owe the progress he has made. 
Our line was not strong enough to hold its old positions 
against such a tide. Our men served their guns and their 
rifles, but as attack followed attack, and column followed 
column, and their own losses increased, while the hours 
passed they were ordered to give ground and fall back, 
fighting those heroic rear-guard actions from one position 
to another. 

The main attack just south of St.-Quentin was directed 
against Urvillers and Essigny, and the enemy forced his 
way through these places, between the 36th Ulster and 
14th (Light Infantry) Divisions, by great drives. Our 
garrisons there were partly destroyed by his stupendous 


gun-fire. He gained possession of Essigny before midday 
on March 21, and captured Contescourt on the edge of the 
canal. This gave him important high ground, of which 
he made full use. He succeeded by this movement in 
breaking our line at the right flank of the Ulster Division, 
north of the canal, which he crossed hereabouts, and by 
advancing his field artillery was able to bombard the line 
to which the main body of our troops had been withdrawn 
down from Maissemy and Holnon Wood to Savy and 
Roupy. He pressed forward against this line, but mean- 
while several detached companies of our men were holding 
out in redoubts entirely surrounded by the enemy. They 
were defended by machine-guns, and had supplies of food 
for forty-eight hours. In one near St.-Quentin, in another 
near Grugies, and many others southwards past Fort de 
Liez to La Fere, these companies of men, English and Irish, 
Buffs at Fort Vendheuil, and men of the 2nd London Regi- 
ment in the keep at La Fere, held out, saw the enemy 
streaming past them, knew that they were cut off, but would 
not retreat. Some of them maintained their fire till eve- 
ning, and then, with machine-gun ammunition spent, or 
nearly spent, tried to fight their way through. Many did 
not succeed in this heroic adventure, but by their service 
will always be remembered in our history. They checked 
the enemy progress, and gave their comrades a greater 

Later on in the first day of battle the enemy reached 
the village of Grand Seraucourt, and the high ground south 
of St.-Quentin Canal, which dominates positions on the 
other bank. He was fighting there all night and yester- 
day morning ; his eight divisions, against our splendid hard- 
pressed three, were supported by still two more. The main 
enemy attack was between Roupy and the canal, and all 
day yesterday the German attack continued, our men fight- 
ing ceaselessly. The enemy forced his way past the vil- 
lages of Artemps and St.-Simon in desperate endeavours 
to gain the canal crossings, and about midday yesterday 


directed a column against Tugny, east of Ham, to capture 
the bridgehead. Meanwhile, further north the security of 
our three divisions on this ©sector was threatened by an 
enemy advance on their left, and it was decided to* withdraw 
to a line further back. 

One brigade of the 20th Division was sent up to hold 
the bridgehead at Tugny, and two other units of the same 
division were sent forward to cover our divisions as they 
fell back. They did this with glorious gallantry, and late 
last night those of their number who had been acting as 
the last rear-guards made their way back after many hours 
of battle. One body of troops from the 61st Division 
counter-attacked with marvellous spirit, and regained the 
village of Villecholles, and could have held it for a long 
time had they not been ordered to conform to the general 
movement. All through to-day (Saturday) the enemy 
pressed forward towards our battle-line, and it is reported 
that his cavalry have been seen on roads north-east of Ham. 

The town of Ham, through which I have passed several 
times lately on the way to the lines in all this country 
through which the enemy is fighting, was evacuated yes- 
terday of all civilians. Not one of them would risk fall- 
ing into German hands a second time, for it was just a 
year ago that they were liberated from the enemy by his 

On the southern sector of our front, between Itancourt 
and La Fere, were Londoners and Rifle Brigades and Sur- 
reys and Kents and men of the Home Counties, belong- 
ing to the 58th (London) and 18th Divisions. It was along 
that line of country, which I have described in recent arti- 
cles, when I went to Fort de Liez and the woods about 
Barisis and looked across the marshes of the Oise to La 
Fere and Massif de St.-Gobain, and found everything quiet 

"When is this battle going to begin?" said an officer of 
the London Regiment. That was nearly a month ago, and 
it began on Thursday morning. Opposite our line north 


of the River Oise the enemy assembled four divisions. Then 
there came a gap where there are marshes, and south of 
that there was another division and three Jaeger battal- 
ions, and south of La Fere a Landwehr regiment. The 
enemy was so densely massed that there was a division on 
about a kilometre of front. None of them were spread 
out on more than two kilometres a division, with a bat- 
talion for every 500 yards. There was no attack across the 
marshes, but the enemy struck at Moy, opposite Hamegi- 
court, on the Oise Canal, and then turned his effort on the 
north of Vendheuil to our line at Ly-Fontaine. 

The German 47th Reserve Division started from La 
Fere and swung past Fargniers to the Fort of Liez, which 
stands on a small hill, with dismantled walls and strong 
underground shelters in which our London men used to 
sleep when in support. 

It was the Jaeger battalion which attacked Quessy and 
Fargniers, south of that fort, and there was a raid by the 
60th Landwehr Regiment over the marshes at La Fere. 
During the night they built four bridges and a dam over 
the river, and then fired a number of gas projectors, but 
our men saw them, shattered them with machine-gun and 
field-gun fire, so that they had to be withdrawn. It was 
only a small episode in a larger plan. German storm troops 
were able to force their way to Vendheuil, Ly-Fontaine, 
and Benay, south of Essigny, and to strike against Jussy 
and Terguier on the St.-Quentin Canal. On the evening 
of the first day they brought up two more divisions, and 
that night, owing to the pressure of their attacks, it was 
decided that we should withdraw to a prepared line fur- 
ther west, which was our best defence. This was done 
during darkness, the retirement being covered by gallant 
rear-guards. All through the day several redoubts were 
held in front of our main battle-line by similar companies 
of brave men as those further north. A company of the 
Buffs held out in Fort Vendheuil until four o'clock in the 
afternoon, though entirely surrounded, and a company of 


men of the 2nd London Regiment held out, opposite La 
Fere against all odds, with the enemy far ahead of them 
and with but slender hope of breaking through to our new 
line of defence. These rear-guard posts and the marvel- 
lous discipline and valour of all our infantry, who fought 
until their lines were weak and until many dead and 
wounded lay around them, prevented the enemy from get- 
ting beyond Essigny and Benay on the first day. It is 
probable, also, that the confusion into which he had been 
thrown by fog also hampered his movements, and it is cer- 
tain that he was deeply distressed by the severity of his 
losses. Yesterday he renewed the attack, pressing for- 
ward wherever he could find a weak place, and making des- 
perate efforts to gain crossings at Terguier and Jussy. 
There was fierce and bloody fighting at Jussy, where one 
of our brigades counter-attacked impetuously, hurling Ger- 
man troops out of that place, and killing many of them. 
However, the enemy was able to effect a crossing and so 
get to the left bank of the canal. 

On the evening of yesterday — that is, Friday — the Ger- 
mans brought up still another division, the 223rd, and 
these fresh troops did not relieve those engaged already, 
but leap-frogged, as it is called — that is, passed through 
them to new objectives. This morning they followed up 
our withdrawal by clearing up all the ground in the bend 
formed by the acute angle of the St.-Quentin Canal, which 
has its apex at Tugny, six kilometres east of Ham, and it 
was reported that patrols entered the town of Ham itself. 
Another report came through, though it proved to be un- 
true, that this morning the enemy troops were reported 
advancing in the neighbourhood of Ham to Guiscard. All 
the servants of a headquarters staff were gathered together, 
cooks and orderlies and transport men, and sent up the 
road to hold it. It proved unnecessary, as I know from 
personal experience, for I went into Guiscard this morn- 
ing and met no Uhlans thereabouts, though they were re- 
ported, truly I believe, to have been seen round Ham. 


On the second day of the battle I was at the point of 
liaison with the French troops, and I saw some of their 
regiments ready for action. It was a splendid thing to 
see the sky blue of this army. The poilus were magnifi- 
cent-looking men, hard and bronzed, and in good spirit. 
Some of their officers discussed the situation with me, and 
said, "We shall hold them and give them a good biff when 
the time comes, as on the day of the Marne." They were 
anxious for news about the enemy's latest positions. They 
shook hands and saluted with comradely smiles, and said 
"Good luck to us both." "If we act together," said one 
of them, "we are bound to win." 

French poilus watched our infantry and gunners, and 
all the turmoil of our traffic, with intense interest, and were 
surprised at the calm, cheerful way in which our men be- 
haved in these hours of crisis. 

"Your Tommies are imperturbable," said one of the 
French officers. Certainly, nothing in this war has been 
more splendid than the way in which, all along the line, 
many of our troops have fought every mile of their way 
back to the positions we now hold, under stupendous fire 
and tide after tide of those field-grey men pouring over 
the slopes and crowding down the roads. 

I have told briefly what happened on the right of the 
battle. Further north, in the Cambrai salient, the defence 
by our troops was just as heroic, and in spite of inevitable 
withdrawal under incessant attack they held strong lines 
which the enemy has vainly tried to pierce, and are still 
holding to-day. 

Southwards from Bullecourt the lines were held by the 
6th and 51st (Highland) Divisions from Noreuil to 
Doignies; by the 17th, 63rd (Naval), and 47th (London) 
from Doignies to Gouzeaucourt ; by the 66th and 24th from 
Gouzeaucourt to Maissemy; and by the 61st and 30th from 
Maissemy to the St.-Quentin Canal. Among the support- 
ing troops who were sent forward to the help of these di- 


visions were the 41st, 19th, 25th, 2nd, 50th, and 20th Di- 

On the first day of the attack in the centre of the battle- 
front, the depth of the enemy bombardment was so great 
that it reached as far back as Vaux and Velu. We knew 
his attack was coming. Intense area shoots, which de- 
stroyed some of his batteries, blew up some of his dumps 
and caused him great losses. But he had brought up no 
new batteries, and had at least 700 guns on this short sec- 
tor of the Front, so that his fire was violent and destruc- 

Although on the right, fog confused the enemy, owing 
to the width of No Man's Land, further north it was in 
his favour, as our machine-guns in enfilade positions could 
not see his advancing infantry until they were quite close. 
It also veiled the attack from our forward observers. One 
of them telephoned to headquarters some time after the 
battle was launched. His words over the 'phone were 
dramatic as he saw the enemy draw near. Presently he 
said, "Enemy is streaming behind us," and his next mes- 
sage was, "I shan't be able to speak much longer." Then 
there was a crash, and after that silence. 

The enemy's gun-fire with quick-time fuse destroyed 
much of our wire, and the rest was forced by sheer weight 
of human bodies. Our front and support lines were 
smashed into a chaos of earth, and German storm troops 
took them without much delay. They were lightly held, 
and the English and Scottish survivors fell back on the 
main battle-line. 

The enemy's waves still came on, mown down by our 
machine-gunners at short range, and by our field artillery 
firing with open sights and laying their guns on to the 
ranks. Their dead and wounded were piled up in heaps, 
but this did not check for long the dense masses that fol- 
lowed for further sacrifice. 

There was intense fighting round Lagnicourt and Demi- 
court, the last two villages on this line to hold out, and 


the Highlanders of the 51st Division fought, as always in 
this war, with immortal heroism. When their flank on the 
left was exposed a battalion of Seaforths covered the with- 
drawal of the other troops, regardless of their own lives, 
against the hordes of the enemy. They held the position 
even when the enemy brought up two field-guns and fired 
into them at point-blank range. This last stand of the 
Seaforths enabled our men on the left to gain their de- 
fensive line, and only a few men came back after that deed 
of glorious endurance. 

Heavy German attacks were launched all day against 
our reserve line in this sector, and dead were crowded upon 
dead before they could force our troops of the 40th and 
59th Divisions to further withdrawal, first to Vaux, Mer- 
chies, and Beaumetz, and on Friday to the neighbourhood 
of the old German line. Yesterday there were strong at- 
tacks again, all along this line, but the enemy made no 
progress and bled his foremost troops to death against our 

There was continuous fighting in and out of the village 
of Mory all last night, as on the preceding days, the enemy 
endeavouring to get this place in order to drive down on 
the Arras-Bapaume road. This village of Mory was de- 
fended first by English troops — Staffords and Middlesex, 
Lincolns and Leicesters of the 59th Division — and after- 
wards by the Royal Scots Fusiliers, Highland Light in- 
fantry, and other Scottish troops. Mory was lost and re- 
taken several times. The 1st Battalion of Leicesters were 
surrounded there, and fought their way out with extraor- 
dinary gallantry after severe losses. Afterwards the 
enemy was surrounded in the village and many killed, and 
last night Highlanders and Lowlanders swept through the 
village and recaptured the trenches east of it. 

A company of Leicesters held Vaucelette Farm, near 
Epehy, though entirely surrounded, and would not surren- 
der, so that they were either killed or captured. Another 
battalion was surrounded at Pezieres, and after fighting all 


day and sweeping- the enemy with machine-gun fire, made 
a gallant effort to fight their way through two lines of Ger- 
mans. Some of them succeeded, and hacked their way 
back to our lines. 

Meanwhile, on the left of the battle-line, between 
Monchy and Bullecourt, there was desperate fighting, the 
enemy flinging in new reserves and passing regiment 
through regiment to force his way forward at any cost. 
After taking Bullecourt and Croisilles on the first day, he 
directed the chief effort of his thrust against Henin Hill, 
with further attacks on Vaulx, Vraucourt, Beugnatre, and 
St.-Leger, against our hard-tried 40th Division. For all 
these places there were most bloody battles, and on the 
afternoon of Friday we were still holding Beugnatre sugar 
factory and Vaux-Vraucourt. At half-past four one of 
our staff officers walked through that village to see the 
situation himself, and found our men still there, refusing 
to surrender it, though the enemy was working round it 
and threatening to cut it off. At 5.50 there were more 
attacks, and the enemy made a supreme effort, so that all 
roads from Lagnicourt, Croisilles, and Fontaine Wood 
were crowded with his advancing columns. Our 3rd Di- 
vision repulsed all attacks, but the 34th Division on the 
right, at Henin Hill, were compelled to withdraw, being too 
weak to attack further. Twelve machine-guns, with their 
teams, held the hill with a girdle of fire until the retirement 
was complete, though the enemy was swarming about its 
slopes like packs of wolves. Last night it was decided to 
withdraw from Monchy, and this movement was made 
without knowledge of the enemy, who did not discover it 
until three hours after the last man was away. There were 
no fewer than ten attacks yesterday against Vaux Vrau- 
court, and the enemy brought up his cavalry in case the line 
was pierced. But they could not break through, and there 
was great slaughter of men and horses by our machine- 


March 24 
I have further news to-day of what has happened on the 
right of our battle-front since I wrote the first part of this 
message. After breaking across the Oise and the canal 
of St.-Quentin, the German troops pressed on hard, in 
spite of frightful losses, and swamped several of the ruined 
villages, which they destroyed in their retreat from these 
places a year ago. East of Peronne there was violent 
fighting. In the neighbourhood of Ham they fought their 
way through some of the woods thereabout, and their ad- 
vanced lines tried to force their way on towards the old 
positions held by them before they withdrew to St.-Quen- 
tin in the early days of last year. That is the position to- 
day, and after three days of most terrible slaughter they 
are now weakening in their power of attack, and slowing 
down the pace of their advance. All our men and their 
own prisoners agree that their losses have been on the 
highest scale, as high as 50 per cent, in some divisions, 75 
per cent, in several battalions, and hardly less than 30 
per cent, among any of the attacking units. One prisoner 
says that out of his company of 258 only 50 remain alive. 
We know of several cases like this, and they show clearly 
enough that the enemy has paid a stupendous price for his 
gain of ground. It is ground which he has himself laid 
waste with absolute destruction, and there is no cover for 
his men, and no standing towns in the battle area except 
at Ham, which is only half ruined. His men, sent out into 
the blue with two days' iron rations, are now hungry and 
exhausted and dazed by their long struggle against our 
heroic men. They say that the offensive was begun as an 
act of desperation because Germany must have peace, and 
in spite of their progress over a wide front, they are de- 
pressed because they do not see decisive victory. Their 
first day's battle enabled them, by storms of fire, to swamp 
and break through our first lines of defence, and on the 
second day they were able to maintain a heavy, though 
weaker fire on our positions, and pursue their advance by 


weight of their enormous numbers of men, flung into the 
attack regardless of all price in life and blood. On the 
third day their gun-power weakened again, and their troops 
showed signs of great exhaustion. Since this morning 
they have been held, and have made no great progress. 

It seems certain now that our armies are able to control 
the situation within the limits of ultimate safety, though 
our losses in men are inevitably severe, and the situation 
still requires all our abilities in strategy and generalship. 
Our armies are holding good lines, and the blackest shad- 
ows are beginning to lift. The weather is hot and brilliant 
in sunshine, and on this Palm Sunday there is a deep blue 
sky above all this blood and strife. 


Heroic Rearguards 

March 25 
Yesterday the enemy continued his efforts to advance, 
and there was fierce fighting by his troops to gain the cross- 
ings over the Somme, south of Peronne, while at the same 
time trying to break a way through the defences of Ba- 
paume. On the Somme he flung across a pontoon bridge 
and rafts, and his men tried to cross, but our field artillery, 
firing at short range, smashed up many of these bridges 
and killed his engineers and infantry. Gallant counter- 
attacks by some of our men flung him back across the river 
at several points, but elsewhere he held his crossings long 
enough to put over his forces. 

This morning two fresh German divisions attacked along 
this part of the line south of Peronne, and our troops are 
heavily engaged with them and holding them back as best 
they can. All the fighting in this part of the country since 
March 21 has been a continuous battle, in which many of 
our divisions holding the front line below Gouzeaucourt to 
Maissemy have shown magnificent powers of endurance, 


as, indeed, like all others engaged, and have only yielded 
ground under the pressure of overwhelming numbers and 
great gun-fire. 

The Commander-in-Chief has mentioned specially the 
24th Division for their defence of Le Verguier. Here, on 
the second day of the battle, a small body of the Queen's 
fought to the last man, refusing to retreat when surrounded, 
and working their machine-guns until they were put out 
of action. In their neighbourhood the Lancashire troops 
of the 66th Division held out stubbornly, and with their 
comrades of the 24th withstood the assault of seven Ger- 
man divisions, who surged against them on the first morn- 
ing after the colossal bombardment, and continued to press 
them when they fell back from the front-line systems, fight- 
ing desperately with little battles in woods and ruined 
chateaux, such as Grandpriel Wood and Caubrieres 
Chateau and Ferveque Farm, west of Hargicourt. The 
enemy directed his thrust against Templeux Guerard, 
gained high ground with observation, and fought forward 
through the village of Ervillers. 

There was a bloody struggle in some old chalk quarries, 
where many German dead now lie, and after the enemy had 
come some way forward ten of our Tanks drove into him 
and shattered some of his battalions with their machine- 
gun fire, dispersing groups of his advancing units. The 
Tanks manoeuvred about, firing continually on each flank, 
and causing terror among the enemy's foremost assault 
troops. Our men fought a number of rear-guard actions, 
and made many counter-attacks in the neighbourhood of 
Roisel, and fell back to the line of the Somme only when 
new masses of Germans passed through those battalions 
which they had met and beaten. 

Our field artillery and heavy guns were handled with 
marvellous discipline in trying hours, and positions which 
became untenable. Our gunners were firing hour after 
hour at large bodies of Germans moving so close to them 
that they were laid directly on to their targets, and caused 


deadly losses in these ranks of field-grey men, who never 
ceased to come forward in a living tide, at whatever cost 
of life, and bore down our defensive lines by this ceaseless 
tide. Some of our guns had to be abandoned, but many 
of them were withdrawn to the other side of the Somme, 
and the gunners were wonderful in the skill and courage 
with which they made this passage and took up new posi- 
tions and went into action again, like exhibition batteries 
at Earl's Court. 

By Saturday morning the German troops were ex- 
hausted and spent, and in some parts of the line made no 
further effort for a time, but halted to gain some sleep and 
wait for fresh rations. On Saturday and Sunday our men, 
who had had no rest from fighting, were reinforced and 
given some relief, though many of them were again en- 
gaged, and, weary as they were, put up new and gallant 
fights against the enemy, who had also been reinforced by 
greater numbers and came on again in their unending on- 

Some enemy cavalry were seen yesterday and to-day in 
small bodies acting as scouts, and our own cavalry patrols 
have met them and turned them back in the neighbourhood 
of Ham and on the edge of the old Somme battlefields. 

French infantry is also fighting shoulder to shoulder 
with our men, and giving most gallant help to us. No 
praise is too high for the way in which they have been 
tried to the uttermost limits of human endurance and cour- 
age in face of tremendous odds. Many of them have 
fought isolated little battles and covered the general with- 
drawal of the line at the deliberate sacrifice of their own 
lives. All of them have fought hard though wearied by 
incessant fatigue, lack of sleep, and the killing of the enemy. 

Our Army now in these battlefields are dirty, unshaven 
heroes, who snatch half an hour's sleep in any pause of the 
fighting, and then get their rifles and machine-guns ready 
for another bout. So I saw them this morning on the edge 
of the old battlefield of the Somme. It was a strange and 


thrilling scene in country which for a time seemed liberated 
from this black evil of war, after many battles which seem 
old in history had been fought across it. It was country 
from which the Germans had been beaten back in retreat. 
There were our old deserted trenches, which Nature had 
filled with long grass and weeds, and shell-craters of old 
strife, in which wild flowers are growing, and shreds of 
barbed wire on the edge of belts of ground which had once 
been No Man's Land, and tumbled down dug-outs and sand- 
bag emplacements rotted by frost, and the debris of infernal 
conflict surrounding little cemeteries where sleep our dear 
remembered dead. Old British trenches and old German, 
were so mingled and upheaved that they could not be dis- 
tinguished and on slopes and ridges were the thin gallows- 
trees of woods like Delville Wood and High Wood, in 
which our boys once fought under storms of fire which 
slashed through these riven trunks. The tide of battle had 
flowed away from these places to other fields. Now it had 
come back again, and this morning it was astonishing to me 
to stand there and see the bursting of shells again, and hear 
the high whinnying cry of heavies travelling over these 
ridges so long silent and abandoned, and the snarl of Ger- 
man shrapnel flinging its bullets over this mangled earth 
once more. 

It was a battle scene of the old-fashioned kind as in the 
early days of the war, when there was open fighting. Down 
in the valley were our guns and patrols. Through the 
morning mists the sunlight gleamed on the flanks of the 
horses and on the steel hats of the men waiting for action 
there. Our 18-pounders were firing at some woods on the 
skyline, where the enemy was gathering, and their flashes 
winked in the folds of the slopes. Patrols moved out to 
establish contact with the enemy. I watched them go for- 
ward up the winding road, deserted of all other traffic. 
Some new batteries galloped up, unlimbered, and made 
ready for action. The men saw to the laying of their guns 
without hurry or nervousness, but with smart discipline. 


Infantry were taking up positions among the old ruins. 
Some of them stood about in groups, smoking and chatting. 
After a cold night in the open they were still muffled up in 
scarves, tied up to the ears under the steel hats, and hid 
the grey look of men without much sleep, and for once in a 
while the British i\rmy was unshaven, and there were 
young faces covered with a four days' growth of beard, 
giving them a more veteran look. 

The commanding officer of a battery came up and spoke 
a few cheerful words. He pointed to his guns, then to the 
slopes ahead, and said, "I shall catch 'em when they come 
down." Other officers came up and asked for the morn- 
ing's news, or gave the latest they knew. 

'The Germans seem tired," said one of them. "They're 
not coming on so fast. Doggo, I guess." 

Another officer laughed at these words as though at 
some secret joke of his, and then said he was going as far 
as he could up the sinister road ahead to make a forward 
dressing-station. He was a doctor, but looked like a fight- 
ing soldier in his helmet and muddy clothes. 

A line of Tanks came crawling over the hill like enor- 
mous slugs, moving very slowly — a good target for the 
enemy guns, though not a shot was fired at them. The 
enemy was not strong in guns in that forward outpost of 
his among the naked masts of wood on the hill-crest. Some 
of his shrapnel was bursting aimlessly, killing a few horses, 
whose dead bodies lay about ; and presently he sent a number 
of high-explosive 5.9's, I think, into two patches of ground 
which were once villages — Montaufan and Mametz, but 
are now rubbish-heaps, and along the upper end of that 
sinister street which was ours at one end and his at the 
other. Some of these crumps set our transport moving. 
They galloped their old hairies down the road at a great 

From below the edge of the woods where the enemy was 
halted came a blast of machine-gun fire, sweeping in gusts 
of bullets. Our outposts were at work, and the enemy 


was having a bad time, I think, in those woods. This scat- 
tered fire became heavier, as though some more guns of his 
were getting into action. The stage was set for another 

Far behind the lines there were scenes of great activity 
on the road — a long line of traffic, of marching men and 
guns, against which beats another line of pioneers, labour 
battalions, ambulances, and peasants' carts. German agents 
have been spreading alarmist rumours among the villages 
behind the lines, and some of the poor people there have 
been persuaded to leave their homes and trek away to dis- 
tricts more remote from war. As a contrast come bat- 
talions of "Chinkies" moving to new quarters and grinning 
as they go, in all manner of queer headgear, from pot-hats 
to generals' field caps, above their Chinese uniforms. 

Forward go our marching men without a shadow on their 
faces, calm, resolute, undismayed by any rumour or bad 
luck. It is a pageant of heroic youth and our heart beats 
to, see them. It is their bodies and their spirit which stand 
between us and a German victory. It is their courage which 
will break down the enemy's onslaught in what may be the 
second battle of the Somme. 

March 27 
Yesterday and to-day the enemy has not made further ad- 
vances on a big scale between the Arras-Bapaume road on 
the left of the battle-front and the village of Bray, on the 
Somme, but has paused in his massed attacks in order to 
reorganize his line and bring up his artillery. But he has 
made cautious movements forward over the old Somme 
battlefields, which have led to sharp fighting at various 
points, and renewed losses to his assault troops. 

It has been marvellously clear weather since the first 
foggy morning of March 21, and though now much colder, 
with a strong easterly wind, which is painful to our troops 
at night in the open fields, our air squadrons have recon- 
noitred, bombed, and machine-gunned his massed bat- 


talions with constant audacity. They have reported heavy 
concentrations of German storm troops behind Maurepas, 
Ginchy, and Beugnatre, and the roads around Bapaume 
have been crowded with men and guns and transport pass- 
ing down through Le Sars, with German cavalry along the 
Bapaume-Guedecourt road, and a steady drift downwards 
to the town of Albert. That poor, stricken city of the 
golden Virgin, head downwards, with a babe in her out- 
stretched arms, which I have described so often in accounts 
of the battles of the Somme in 191 6, when that falling 
statue was lit up by shell-fire, was yesterday in the centre of 
the fighting north of the Somme. The night before their 
assault yesterday they bombed it heavily from the air, using 
the brilliant moonlight, which lay white over all battlefields 
and these roofs, to fly low and pick their targets wherever 
they saw men moving or horses tethered. In several cases it 
was not men they hit, but women and children, who when 
the war seemed to have passed from this place a year ago 
crept back to their homes and built little wooden booths in 
which they sold papers and picture post cards to our troops. 
Now suddenly war flamed over them again, and they were 
caught before they could escape by these thunderbolts out 
of that shining moonlight, terribly clear and revealing. 
Dead horses lay about the ruined streets when I passed 
through a morning ago. Our field-guns were passing be- 
low the outstretched arms of the Virgin, and companies of 
dusty, tired men of ours who took up positions beyond the 
town below shell-pierced walls and in sunken roads to await 
the enemy and make him pay the price of blood. Some 
refugees were leaving their homes, lingering to pack up a 
few bundles on barrows. Some of the children and old 
people were weeping, but I noticed that the young girls 
held themselves bravely, and smiled at our soldiers, as 
though to say, "We also are not afraid." 

Yesterday afternoon the enemy, who had been working 
closer with his men and guns, in face of heavy machine- 
gun and artillery fire, opened a fairly heavy bombardment 


on Albert and its neighbourhood. From the high ground 
this side of Albert our observers could see an enemy 
column coming over slopes south of the town by Meaulte, 
where, on July i, 191 6, I saw our Indian cavalry sitting 
like statues in the dark with their lances up, waiting for the 
opening signal of our great battle, which began when the 
vast mine-crater was blown at La Boiselle. That crater 
was now on fire again with flash of bursting shells, and the 
life of war had come back to these desolate fields, where for 
a long time there has been the silence of death above many 

To me nothing has been more startling in this war than to 
see this renewal of strife on these old abandoned battle- 
grounds, to see the enemy bombarding Fricourt and Ma- 
metz, to hear the savage sweep of machine-gun fire by 
Montauban and Delville Wood, and to watch our men lining 
the fire-step in the trenches that were dug for battles two 
years won or lost. Batteries I saw about the red-brick 
ruins of Albert caught the enemy in the open and tore gaps 
in his ranks, and our men poured rifle-fire at his advancing 
waves as they came over the slopes. During the night all 
our heavy guns in position flung high explosives over those 
Somme battlefields, whose earth has been more mauled by 
gun-fire than any ground in the world of war. The enemy's 
massed troops were here without shelter or cover of any 
kind, stretched on earth and sleeping if they could in the 
tearing cold wind. This bombardment of ours must have 
kept them awake, unless they were drunk with sleep, and 
many men must have been killed as they lay still under 
the high white moon. At the same time our flying raiders 
went out, flew very low, so that their wings were loud 
above the heads of the German bivouacs, and dropped 
bombs into their masses and spilt machine-gun fire over 
them, and knew by the turmoil and cries that they were 
hurting and demoralizing the enemy. The Germans 
retaliated in their own way by bombing open towns full 
of civilians, and I was in one of them last night, nor far 


from the lines now, when these night bombers came over 
and dropped their engines of death. I have never seen 
such moonlight in March. It was like a June night in 
Southern France. Every roof was sharply defined by a 
silver edge of light, and the walls of old houses were daz- 
zling white and their shadows very black. There seemed 
something devilish and cruel in that white light. Quite 
early in the evening bombs began to fall, and all about took 
cover, under shadows of old doorways. Raiders came 
over all through the night. This was in Amiens, under 
the great shadow of that cathedral, which in the moonlight 
looked as insubstantial as a dream, with all its pinnacles 
and buttresses white as snow. 

The enemy now holds the line along the Ancre Valley, 
up past Beaumont Hamel, Serre, and Puisieux, to east of 
Ablainzeville to the Cojeul river by Boiry, past Henin and 
Heninel. South of that his line runs from Meaulte to 
the neighbourhood of Bray-on-the-Somme, and so south- 
wards to Estrees. 

There was hot fighting yesterday at different times of the 
day near Auchonvillers and in Hamel village, where the 
enemy tried to break a way through to Mesnil. This at- 
tack was beaten off, and our men made prisoners of two 
officers and eleven other ranks. One of his outposts pushed 
out to Aveluy Wood — how strange to write again the old 
and famous names in the first Somme battles — but were 
driven back with loss by one of our patrols. There was 
also an attack on the village of Sailly-le-Sec, but after 
seizing it the enemy was beaten out by a counter-attack. 
One of his air pilots was captured alive in his machine. 
As always happens in open warfare of this kind and at 
such a time, many rumours travel quickly down the roads, 
and yesterday was thick with them. It was reported that 
the enemy had broken through at a certain place with 
armoured cars, but our officers quickly took the situation 
in hand and found that the line was firmly held. 

Elsewhere it was reported that the Germans had taken 


Hebuterne, near Gommecourt, but a staff officer climbed a 
tree and saw that this also was a myth, and that Hebuterne 
and its old orchard, where strange birds went whining 
among the trees when I went there first three years ago, 
were still in our hands, and that no attack had been launched 

All attacks about Ablainzeville and on our left flank have 
been repulsed with heroic steadiness. Up on this northern 
part of the battle they are now putting in divisions for the 
second time, those used in the first fighting, and that is a 
good sign. It indicates also that the main attack is press- 
ing south of the Somme. The enemy's strength of attack 
does not seem so great for the time being as on the first 
three or four days, and there is no doubt from what prison- 
ers say that his men are suffering under the strain and 
horror of their losses and fatigue. But the battles are by 
no means over, and this is only a pause before renewed 


Arras to the Somme 

March 28 
After a short pause for reorganizing his divisions and 
bringing up guns and supplies, the enemy is again attacking 
at various points and seems to be preparing for new as- 
saults in mass. 

His main thrusts are directed now against Arras, north 
and south of the Scarpe, and from his positions immediately 
north of the Somme, where he is in villages this side of 
Bray and Cerisy, striking out towards Mericourt and 
Sailly-le-Sec. It is on the left bank of the battle-line, north 
of the River Scarpe, that his menace is for the moment 
greatest, and he seems to have side-slipped some of his 
force northwards in order to strike a heavy blow there, 
having failed to turn our left in the original attack, owing 


to the splendid resistance of the 3rd Division and other 
English troops. This battle is now in progress, the fight- 
ing being very intense. Before the German infantry ad- 
vanced, our lines from the village of Bailleul, near Oppy, 
southwards to Boiry, were under hurricane bombardments, 
starting at 5.50 this morning, and then German storm 
troops moved forward with many machine-guns. 

Our artillery and rifle fire made a target of them, so that 
large numbers fell, but their gaps were filled up by succeed- 
ing waves, and they forced their way forward to some 
extent in the neighbourhood of Orange Hill, from which 
they were driven in the Battle of Arras in April of last 
year. There is also fierce fighting round Telegraph Hill, 
another point of vantage from which our men struggled in 
that battle a year ago. The enemy has brought up a num- 
ber of high-velocity long-range guns in this district, and is 
bombarding villages and camps far behind our lines. 

Yesterday he was feeling our strength by small actions 
at various points west of the Arras-Bapaume road, and this 
developed into serious engagements here and there. His 
object was to draw his line westwards and to gain high 
ground around the villages of Ayette, Bucquoy, and 
Puisieux, but although he compelled our troops to with- 
draw slightly, he did not make much progress. Counter- 
attacks by our men flung him back and strewed the ground 
with his dead and wounded, especially about the village of 
Ablainzeville, and this place is still held by us. In the late 
afternoon there was sharp attacks south-west of Boyelle, 
and after being repulsed with most bloody losses, the enemy 
tried to work round on either flank, but was again foiled 
with much hurt to himself. This fighting was, however, 
mainly to distract attention from more serious actions 
further north, which have developed, and are still in prog- 
ress. Meanwhile, further south, on both sides of the 
Somme, the enemy is, as Ihave said, trying to press nearer 
to Amiens in the direction of Bray, and his outposts are at 
Morlancourt and Dernancourt. 


There is one feature of his method of attack which is 
remarkable, and which shows the quality of his artillery 
officers. If he once gains a footing in any village or place 
of advantage for his guns, they rush forward with their 
light artillery and take up positions there regardless of 
being blown to pieces by our counter -battery work. So 
they did yesterday in Morlancourt, which we have kept 
under intense destructive fire. 

I find it impossible to gain any definite figures about the 
enemy losses, because from prisoners' statements they vary 
very much, and all estimates are between 30 per cent, and 
50 per cent. It seems to me certain, however, that in the 
first days of fighting the enemy paid a frightful price for 
his attacks. It was only after that first phase, when our 
foremost lines were utterly spent and tired by ceaseless 
rear-guard actions, that the enemy was able to advance 
more easily, picking up prisoners who were hardly able to 
walk, rounding up groups of men who had fallen with an 
irresistible craving for sleep, and cutting off small bodies 
who found themselves surrounded before they could think 
of escape. Even then there were always field-batteries 
firing at his advancing columns at short range, mowing his 
ranks as they came over the slopes of the Somme battle- 
fields, and covering parties of riflemen who swept the head 
of his column until their comrades had retired. And now, 
in the second phase of the battle, he is again losing large 
numbers of men, and in any close fighting he is roughly 

I have said much already about the magnificent courage 
of so many of our infantry and their endurance through 
these tragic days and nights, so resolute and so strong that 
they have kept in check the whole weight almost of the 
German army on the Western Front, apart from the di- 
visions holding the quiet sectors of the line. No praise is 
too high for these English, Scottish, and Irish battalions 
of the 2 1st, 51st, 17th, 36th, 47th, 63rd, 18th, 14th, and 
other glorious divisions of ours, who, without rest or sleep, 


for several days and nights, kept back this human ava- 

But our gunners, also, are beyond all words of praise 
and gratitude, because of their unfailing endeavours. 
Many of their guns were overwhelmed a week ago in the 
wild storm of fire flung over our lines, but those who es- 
caped from this monstrous bombardment have kept their 
batteries in action ever since. Officers and men of the 
gun teams have not spared themselves to protect the in- 
fantry and destroy the enemy. I have seen some of them 
in action during this fighting, and have marvelled at their 
coolness. At times their officers are hoarse with shouting 
the word "Fire!" and dazed for lack of sleep, but clear- 
headed enough to see an S O S signal and get a straight 
target. They saved nearly all our heavy guns, and have 
trudged back over battlefields over terrible broken ground 
between Bapaume and Albert and between places like 
Gouzeaucourt and Ham, urging on their slow-going cater- 
pillars and encouraging the men. Our heavies are ready 
for more work again if ever there is a chance of fixed po- 
sitions, and meanwhile our lighter guns are keeping up a 
chorus of fire along the whole sweep of the enemy's line. 
It is the fire maintained by these gunners of ours and by 
the wagon drivers who have brought up ammunition, so 
that there is always a heap of shells round every battery 
that has inflicted such fearful losses on the German troops, 
apart from the never-silent blast of machine-gun fire and 
rifle-fire of our infantry outposts. 

The enemy has also suffered from attacks by our air- 
men, so sensational and destructive that the main roads have 
been cleared of his troops and they have been forced to take 
to the open country. I know many cases of airmen of 
ours who, during this battle, have gone out over the Ba- 
paume-Albert road and other highways behind the Ger- 
man lines flying no higher than 500 feet and dropping 
bombs into masses of moving troops, and after scattering 
large columns chasing them with deadly machine-gun fire 



and inflicting many casualties. This morning- our airmen 
were flying like that over roads along the Somme from 
Bray, and it was they who brought back news of the new 
concentration for the attack which began to-day, after 

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flinging their challenge of death into these assemblies. 
I must add to what I said yesterday about the divisions 
which have been in this fighting, though nothing that I 
could say would picture the splendour of these men, among 
whom I have been to-day. They are dog-tired and dirty ; 


and this morning a cruel east wind was cutting them after 
a night of intense cold in the line. They were unshaven, 
they had tied shawls round their heads under their steel 
hats, they were powdered with dust and chalk, but they 
held their heads high, and their limbs straightened up as 
their bands marched at the head of the columns. And in 
other fields and roads were bodies of men waiting to go 
into action or just out of battle, sleeping in every attitude 
of restfulness, with their heads on each other's shoulders, 
or hunched together for warmth, or with their faces cov- 
ered by blankets and their hairy coats tucked up to their 

Endless columns of transport move along the roads be- 
tween the guns and gun-wagons, and the drivers nod over 
their horses or their lorries, or sit awake on bundles of 
supplies with one arm round some dear, ridiculous little 
dog which belongs to almost every service wagon, and is 
the innocent comrade representing to these lads of ours the 
human side of life and its affections. 

There is another crowd on the roads, pitiful but heroic. 
It is the crowd of refugees who are abandoning many vil- 
lages now in the zone of war and many small towns on the 
edge of it, and fleeing from the approach of the enemy 
whom they fear more than cold and hunger, more than 
poverty and misery, more than the loss of everything that 
was theirs in the world. I saw the first tide of these poor 
people when the Germans came near to Ham and Peronne 
and Roye. Some of them had been once in the hands of 
the Germans, and at this second menace they left their 
homes and their fields and their shops and came trekking 
westwards and southwards. One's heart bleeds to see 
these refugees, and it is the most tragic aspect of these 
days. There were many old people among them, old 
women in black gowns and caps, who came hobbling very 
slowly down the highways of war, and old men with bent 
backs, who lean heavily on their gnarled sticks as the guns 
go by and the fighting men. I saw one old man near Ham 


who was trundling along a wheelbarrow, and on this was 
spread a mattress, and on that was an old lady, his wife. 
She looked ninety years of age, with a white, wrinkled face, 
and she was fast asleep like a little child. 

Many children are on the roads, packed tight into farm- 
carts, with household furniture and bundles of clothing 
and poultry and pigs and new-born lambs. The noise of 
gun-fire is behind them, and they move faster when it grows 
louder. They are very brave, these boys and girls and 
these old people. There is hardly any weeping or any 
look on their face of grudge against this unkind turn of 
fate. They seem to accept it with stoical resignation, with 
the most matter-of-fact courage, and their only answer to 
pity is a smile and the words: "Cest la guerre." Those 
are words I first heard in the early weeks of the war and 
hoped never to hear again. 

Many of these people trek in family groups and gather- 
ings of families from one village. Small boys and girls 
drag tired cows after them. The other day one of these 
cows leaned against every tree she passed and then sat 
down, and the girl with her looked round helplessly, not 
knowing now what to do. This morning I saw a girl wear- 
ing a veil and dressed in an elegant way taking a cow with 
her. She was quite alone on the road. It is queer and touch- 
ing that most of these fugitives wear their best clothes, as 
though on a fete day. It is because they are clothes they 
want to save, and can only save by wearing them in their 

In one town the fear of the German entry came at night 
— a bright moonlight night into which there came many 
German bombing squadrons. The citizens had shut up 
their shops and stood about talking anxiously. Then fear 
and rumour spread among them, and all through the night 
there was an exodus of small families and solitary girls 
and comrades in misfortune stealing away like shadows 
from the homes they loved, from little fortunes or their 
shops, from all their normal life, into the open country, 


where the moonlight lay white and cold on the fields. Be- 
hind them bombs were being dropped, and some of their 
houses were destroyed. 
C'est la guerre. 

March 29 
As I indicated yesterday, the enemy's pressure has for the 
time being relaxed a little across the Somme east of Corbie, 
and whatever effort he has made there during the past day 
and night has been repulsed with most heavy losses. I 
will tell later of that fighting, but yesterday the most ex- 
citing situation and fiercest struggle was on the left of our 
battle-line from Gavrelle southwards to below the Scarpe. 
It was a deliberate, resolute effort by the enemy to capture 
Arras. Three divisions of special storm troops — the 184th, 
1 2th, and 26th Reserve — had been brought up for this pur- 
pose, though one of them had been engaged before and 
roughly handled, and the attack on Arras seems to have 
been postponed. They were ordered to take Arras yes- 
terday at all costs, and before their advance a very heavy 
bombardment was flung over our lines from about five 
o'clock in the morning for several hours. 

Men who were on our right in this fighting tell me that 
this gun-fire was not quite so heavy as on the morning of 
the 2 1st, but still of great intensity. It spread far behind 
our lines to back areas behind Arras in order to hinder 
the traffic on the roads and to keep back supporting troops. 

Masses of men were seen by our airmen advancing down 
the Arras-Cambrai road and round by Monchy Hill. 
Their main thrust was towards Roeux, that frightful lit- 
tle village with its chemical works which I used to write 
about so much in April and May last, when Scottish bat- 
talions of the 15th Division and other men of ours fought 
in and out until all these ruins were littered with dead. 

Once again yesterday it became shambles. We had ma- 
chine-guns well placed with a wide field of fire, and as the 
Germans came down the slopes they were swept with 


streams of bullets, which cut swathes in their formations. 
But once again, as on March 21, the enemy was reckless of 
life, theirs as well as ours, and always his tide of men 
ebbed forward, passing over dead and wounded and creep- 
ing forward like flowing water. Our field-guns raked 
them while our heavies pulled further back to avoid being 
blown up or captured. On and about Orange Hill and 
Telegraph Hill battalions of the 15th Division, who know 
this ground of old, fought tenaciously under murderous 
machine-gun fire, the enemy's screen of infantry covering 
machine-gun batteries, which were rushed forward very 
quickly, and took up positions in shell-holes and behind 
bits of broken wall and any kind of cover in ditches and 
sunken roads. 

Their rifle-fire was weak (say our men, who believe 
themselves to be much stronger as riflemen), but the Ger- 
man machine-gunner is efficient, and their machine-guns 
are very numerous. At some points our men suffered se- 
verely from their fire, and in spite of most stubborn fight- 
ing, they were forced to give a little ground here and there. 
The line was firmly held in the village of Bailleul, a mere 
huddle of bricks as I saw it last below a line of tattered 
trees which lead to Oppy down to Fampoux on the Scarpe. 
There our line was somewhat bent back in the neighbour- 
hood of Feuchy and Tilloy and Neuville-Vitasse, places 
which were taken by Scots and Londoners of the 15th and 
56th Divisions in the Battle of Arras a year ago after 
fighting which will live for ever in history. 

The footing gained by the enemy on a part of Orange 
Hill and Infantry Hill rendered it necessary to fall back 
yesterday towards the old German support lines before that 
battle in April of 19 17. Our troops fought like tigers and 
would not retire until the pressure on them made it impos- 
sible to resist the continual thrust of new attacks by fresh 
troops. There were heroic actions by small groups of men 
struggling to hold up the front line, and some of them 
stayed so long after the enemy had broken beyond them 


that they were cut off. Frightful fighting was happening 
not far from Neuville-Vitasse and Mercatel, and in this 
neighbourhood our men held out with wonderful deter- 
mination until exhausted by battle and until only a poor 
remnant of men had strength to stand against these massed 
attacks. By the end of the day the enemy's assaults weak- 
ened, and then died out, because his losses were enormous 
and the spirit of his attack was broken by such stubborn 

So far to-day the battle has not been resumed except by 
gun-fire, and the enemy is either disheartened at the price 
of the advance or is waiting for the arrival of fresh troops 
to resume his battering towards the gates of Arras, which 
were stormed in long ago by Attila and his Huns, and now 
again have them very near us. With all my heart I hope 
the enemy will not gain an entry into that old city, so rav- 
aged by his shell-fire, but still beautiful with all its wounds. 
All French history has its ghosts there, from the time when 
Julius Caesar made his home in it for a year until the Counts 
of Flanders and Artois and the Dukes of Burgundy filled 
it with pageantry and fine buildings and the songs of trou- 
badours, and in the time of the great Revolution, the guillo- 
tine was set up in Theatre-Square and many heads fell be- 
neath the knife. Our history, too, is bound up with Arras 
from early days, but to me and to all our soldiers its mem- 
ory will be for ever haunted with those scenes a year ago, 
when our battalions had advanced to the edge of battle- 
fields from which they drove back a great German army 
many miles. To-day the enemy is struggling towards his 
old line, and, in these wrecked trenches and amidst the 
litter of his old wire and wreckage and graves, there is 
bloody fighting once more. 

South of Arras, along the line running down near the 
ruined villages of Ficheux, which is nothing but a name, 
and Ayette, which has some rubbish-heaps of brick, and 
Ablainzeville and Bucquoy, from which the German army 
retreated when it withdrew beyond Bapaume. There was 


a series of attacks yesterday of minor character, though 
fierce affairs costing many lives. The Germans made a 
great effort to capture Ayette, and pierced to the south of 
the village, but were flung out by a sharp counter-attack. 

Similar fights were in progress at Ablainzeville and 
Puisieux and Rossignol Wood, near Gommecourt, where I 
remember going out to our outposts when Gommecourt was 
delivered from the enemy in the days of good remembrance. 
To those of us who know these places it gives a sharp edge 
of regret to our knowledge that they are again under the 
evil spell of bloody strife. 

The result of yesterday's fighting was proof that we are 
continuing to make the enemy pay a dreadful price for any 
advance, and that, though with his vast superiority in num- 
bers, he may be able to thrust forward his line in places, 
he is never able to break our line entirely and in an over- 
whelming way. For our troops fall back when necessary 
in an orderly way, keeping in touch on their right and left 
under cover of dauntless rear-guards, and forming a new 
line, against which the enemy must struggle the next time, 
always with the vain hope of dividing our forces and round- 
ing up large numbers of men. 

Prisoners vary very much in their evidence about losses, 
some of them putting them as high as 50 per cent., others 
dropping as low as 30 per cent., but the evidence of our 
own troops and of our aviators, who fly over fields of dead, 
seems to prove beyond all doubt that the enemy has suf- 
fered appallingly. He is losing men in great numbers, not 
only in big battles like that round Arras yesterday, but in 
smaller engagements like those in the neighbourhood of 
Albert and up the valley of the Ancre, through Aveluy 
Wood past Ovillers and Thiepval. 

Men who have been fighting here round Albert tell me 
that our batteries caught the German waves of men as 
they advanced down the slopes from La Boiselle and Mon- 
tauban and shattered them as they came, but could not al- 
together stop those masses moving forward into their fire. 


Men who were holding our lines round Albert on Tuesday 
night fell back to the outskirts of the town, that red-brick 
town of the falling Virgin, when the enemy streamed into 
the other end about five o'clock in the afternoon. Since 
then there has been much fighting at close quarters, ex- 
tending northwards into Aveluy Wood. Some of our 
troops there have never had less than two attacks against 
them each day, and yesterday the Germans tried to rush 
Aveluy Wood and get to Martinsart; but they were flung 
back, leaving many killed and wounded among the trees. 
They managed to get a machine-gun along the railway to 
enfilade our men, but our own machine-guns have swept 
them night and day. Our field-guns also caught him here, 
and some of his troops could be seen running back in re- 
treat to Ovillers. Five of our machine-guns, with gallant 
teams, went out 600 yards ahead of the infantry, and held 
the position here — quite isolated, but doing deadly work 
all through day and night. 

There were at one period of the battle four German di- 
visions here against one of ours. The German artillery is 
being brought up all along this part of the line down to 
Morlancourt and Cerisy, the country south of the Somme, 
and gun-fire is now more severe than after the first day of 
the great offensive. But the Somme battlefields make slow 
going for the heavy guns, and their state is not improved 
by the violent rains which fell last night, so that the ene- 
my's gunners and transport drivers are struggling in the 
sticky ground over the shell-craters of a year's battles. 
South of the Somme our line has drawn back slightly near 
Proyart, in order to straighten out. 

Many of our men are beyond all words magnificent — 
so steady in adversity, so long-enduring, so unmoved by 
any bad luck, so defiant of fatigue and the weakness of the 
flesh. Even when individual men can hardly walk their 
spirit is strong and keen. Though many battalions have 
suffered heavy losses in this long and fierce fighting, the 
survivors take their place in the firing-line and are ready 


to meet the enemy again and punish him again and make 
him pay his toll fees of blood. Many of them have fought 
with martyrs' courage and have offered their lives up for 
their country in a spirit of heroic sacrifice. So was it with 
a body of men fighting yesterday near Neuville-Vitasse. 
They fought until only thirty men were left standing and 
not any officer. Somebody then took command and or- 
ganized a new defence, and those thirty fought on until 
most of them had fallen and their leader was taken pris- 

To-day I have been among our wounded, and although 
one's heart bled at the sight of so many fine lads all bloody 
and bandaged, the calm way in which they spoke of their 
ordeal, the quiet acceptance of their pain, the valour of 
their souls, stirred one with a sense of something divine in 
this humanity of ours, these simple boys of the English 
counties and of the Scottish hills and glens. There was 
never a man among them, though some were wounded mor- 
tally, who uttered a word of despair or anguish. In dark 
days as in bright days they take the fortune of war with 
fine soldierly courage. And men who have come out of the 
battle after days of incessant fighting, so weak that .they 
can hardly stand, so dirty that they are almost unrecog- 
nizable, are restored as though by some magical drug after 
a night's sleep and wash and shave and change of kit. I 
passed many of them to-day, the heroes of these battles, 
and upon my faith they did not look as though they had 
suffered outrageous things and fought through an epic 

of war. 

Our zone of war is a great moving drama of human 
traffic, like a nation of soldiers gathering for battles to de- 
cide the fate of empires, and though rain slashed down to- 
day, and horses and mules tramped through mud, and riders 
in steel hats had for once unshaven faces, and all the fields 
were filled with a litter of material of war, and everything 
from guns to forage was mixed up along the highways and 
drab under the weeping skies, it was a pageant of our race 


which stirred one's soul with some emotion beyond words. 
For in this crisis, when we are at grips with the full power 
of the enemy, the faces of our boys who go passing by 
show no sign of stress, and even in all the turmoil there 
is order, and hardly a man loses his nerve or his temper. 
The best qualities of our race and breed are seen now, 
when they are most wanted, and that is the promise which 
gives good hope that, whatever happens, we shall not fail. 

March 31 
We now have knowledge that the attack on Arras was 
prepared on a scale of enormous strength by divisions in 
depth, preceded by a bombardment as great as that which 
fell upon any part of our line on the morning of March 
21, and that the enemy had determined to capture, not only 
Arras itself, but the Vimy Ridge. It was the heroic re- 
sistance of our troops of the 56th (London) Division and 
the 15th (Scottish) Division that defeated this furious on- 
slaught and destroyed, by enormous losses to German 
troops, this dark scheme of their High Command. 

Seven German divisions were in position north of the 
Scarpe, and twelve south in the arc round our defence of 
Arras, and I believe their plan was for two divisions to 
capture the city, supported by others following close, while 
three divisions of storm troops were to rush through when 
our battalions were heavily engaged or overwhelmed, and 
seize the heights of Vimy. The brunt of this attack, pre- 
ceded by colossal gun-fire, fell upon the London troops, and 
against these boys of ours from the old City at home Ger- 
man tides dashed and broke. By gun-fire, machine-gun fire, 
and rifle-fire the enemy's advancing waves of men were 
swept to pieces, and though they came on again and again 
this massacre continued until at last it must have sickened 
even the high German officers directing the operations from 
behind, and the attacks died out, and the night was quiet 
round Arras, while the enemy collected their wounded. 
It was an utter defeat which will, at least, check German 


efforts round Arras, though they may be renewed with that 
ruthlessness of life, to achieve a settled purpose, which is 
one quality of German generalship. 

Yesterday there was a number of violent engagements, 
which were decided mainly in our favour, and sent more 
victims to German field hospitals. During the night of 
Friday enemy patrols apparently penetrated into the woods 
above Moreuil, on the River Avre, and yesterday some 
bodies of our cavalry moved forward to clear them out. 
They did this with skill and success, and held their ground. 
Somewhat later in the morning the Germans began an at- 
tack in the region between Marcelcave and War fusee, 
across the high road from Amiens to St.-Quentin, after 
heavy gunning, which lasted about an hour. Our troops 
raked them with machine-gun fire and dispersed them. For 
a time they were quiet, but at 1.45, after two more hours of 
bombardment, they attacked again in greater strength, and 
again were beaten back with most bloody losses. In the 
morning also there were violent attacks on one side of 
Arras, and here once more the losses of the German as- 
saulting division were so high that these regiments were 
almost destroyed. It was a fresh division just brought up 
to battle, but now, after a few hours, is broken up, and 
large numbers of dead lie outside Arras among those who 
fell two days ago. On this Easter Sunday, under bright 
sunshine, which is breaking through storm clouds, the fields 
of France are strewn with death. A year ago it was the 
same round the old city of Artois, for it was on Easter 
Sunday, April 9, that we began the Battle of Arras, and 
fought over that ground which is again our battle-field, 
and it was a great anthem of gun-fire which rose up to the 
sky on Easter Morn. 

It would be unwise to exaggerate the enemy's losses, and 
I find it very difficult to get an exact idea of them, but it 
seems to me certain that since that Thursday morning when 
they launched their offensive ten days ago, they have 
reached figures so high that the enemy command must be 


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English Miles 

12 3* 

Approximate Battle Fronts 

June 19/6 _____ 

Dec 1911 

April 1918 

Land above 500 feet 
250 to 500 ,, 
125 „ 250 .. 
., 125 







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I i 


deeply anxious as to the moral of their men and the out- 
come of this dreadful gamble with fate. In spite, too, of 
their progress over the old Somme battlefields, those bar- 
ren and blasted slopes, where there is nothing worth cap- 
ture and only one vast graveyard and one wide stretch of 
hideous lifelessness, they have failed so far in their ambi- 
tions and their plans. Their intention was to break our 
armies to bits by the enormous weight of their onslaught, 
and by piercing between the gap to cut off masses of troops, 
whole divisions and whole brigades, so that we should be 
utterly undone. In that they failed. Apart from all re- 
grets at having had to fall back at all, and at having suf- 
fered losses for which there is mourning in our hearts be- 
cause of so many splendid men of ours who have fallen on 
the field of honour — that terrible field of honour which 
will be watered with tears for all time — we may at least 
rejoice that by the skill of our fighting officers and steady 
courage of our men our line was brought back unbroken, 
and that all the way back to our present position the enemy 
was never able to strike through and roll up large forces. 
It is true that he has taken many prisoners, but they were 
the remnants of rear-guards and isolated bodies, and broken 
companies, not complete units or anything like a group of 
divisions divided from the rest of our Army. 

Nothing in all this battle is finer than the way in which 
the 17th Division fought its way back to our present line 
of defence, while the march of the 63rd (Naval) Division 
in face of the enemy trying to pierce through on our flank 
was a thrilling episode. The 17th Division was made up 
of the 50th Brigade, composed of West Yorks, East Yorks, 
and Dorsets; the 51st Brigade of Borders, Sherwoods, and 
Lincolns; and the 52nd Brigade of Lancashire Fusiliers, 
West Ridings, the Manchesters, and Yorkshire and Lanca- 
shire Pioneers. 

I have been among these men, and from the generals 
and officers heard the full narrative of those anxious hours. 
One battalion was holding the line in front of Hermies and 


Havrincourt on the morning of the 21st, and, although 
under that frightful bombardment after dawn, only lost 
150 yards of their trenches in the enemy's onrush with what 
might have seemed overpowering forces, but they did not 
overpower our men, who fought like Greek heroes. They 
counter-attacked the enemy and drove him out of the 
ground he had gained. 

Hermies was attacked six times and Havrincourt seven 
times, but the enemy fell in heaps and could not break 
through. There was a sunken road at Demicourt from 
which the enemy deployed, and it became a ditch of death 
for the German storm troops. They were mown down by 
machine-guns and shrapnel again and again until that 
sunken road was heaped with their bodies laid out in rows. 
But enemy success elsewhere made it necessary for the 
17th Division to withdraw towards Haplincourt and Bertin- 
court, and so to Villers-au-Flos. This was on the night 
of the 22nd, and by this time the enemy had taken Beau- 
metz and Velu Wood, seriously threatening the Division's 
flank. They were in danger of being surrounded. They 
blew up the lock of the canal, and rear-guards covered their 
withdrawal. They were isolated, and had the enemy be- 
tween them and their friends, and had to hack their way 

The guns were west of Bertincourt, and the enemy tried 
to rush them with machine-gun detachments, firing at short 
range, but after shattering the enemy waves they limbered 
up and got away to new positions. The 17th Division then 
concentrated at Barastre and dug in, and as its commander 
told me, the men were "quite happy" and not worrying. 
But the situation all round was serious. Other British 
troops on both flanks — the 51st and 47th Divisions — fight- 
ing against great odds, were hard pressed, and the enemy 
was trying to pierce their lines. The 63rd (Naval) unit, 
which had lost heavily in earlier bombardments before the 
battle, but had fought like tigers, had been ordered to pass 
through the 17th Division and take up a position near 


Ytres. But the enemy forced a gap at Bus and Ytres, and 
pressed his men forward in the hope of striking through 
that gap and rolling up both these units. 

On March 24 the position was grave, but it was then that 
our troops were most splendid and their generalship most 
skilful. The general commanding the Naval Division was 
always with his men in the firing-line and controlling every 
disposition, and in the morning he ordered the whole unit 
to form into columns and march in front of Bus, where 
the enemy was in strength, to Eaucourt L'Abbaye and High 
Wood. They marched in parade order, with perfect dis- 
cipline, throwing out flanking guard with machine-guns, 
and so those men, weakened by many losses, but strong in 
spirit, went across the Somme battlefields, masses of the 
enemy on their flank, and it was a great sight under the sky, 
and one which should be pictured in history. On the way 
they found food in some of our stores and burnt huts at 
Le Transloy, the general setting light to them himself, and 
the men, who had been thirty-six days in the line, held 
themselves straight and whistled to the tramp of their feet. 

Meanwhile the 17th Division was holding off the enemy, 
seriously menaced by that break through at Ytres. The 
enemy was advancing from Combles through Morval and 
Lesbceufs to Le Transloy, which was on the Division's 
road, at the same time piercing westwards from Ytres it- 

It was a race for Le Transloy. If the enemy got there 
first, all was lost. 

The general manoeuvred his men with fine skill as on a 
chessboard, withdrawing one portion and then another, 
turn and turn about, so that always the enemy was headed 
off, and these wolves could never reach the Naval Division, 
or break through the guard of the 17th. 

Some pioneers of the Yorks and Lanes and the Royal En- 
gineers were ordered to high ground to cover transport 
moving away, and they put up a great fight. The enemy 


was shelling all the roads round Bapaume and Tilloy, and 
the transport had to gallop through this fire. 

The 50th Brigade with the West Yorks, East Yorks, and 
Dorsets, was detached from the rest in order to strengthen 
the position by Guedecourt, where a third brigade was hard 
pressed and engaged in intense fighting, and did not reap- 
pear until the withdrawal was complete to our present line. 

There was more hard fighting at Mametz Wood and 
Fricourt. So on March 26 the remainder of the 17th Di- 
vision reached its journey's end, having fought a con- 
tinual rear-guard action in which they punished the enemy 
again and again, and kept their line intact. It is as fine 
a feat as anything that has been done in this war. There 
was no rest for a time, and both the 51st and 52nd Brigades 
of the 17th Division, with the survivors of the Naval Di- 
vision, were called to fight on the west bank of the Ancre 
above Albert, where other troops of the 12th Division, 
badly fatigued, were being heavily attacked. 

Without murmur, these men who had fought down from 
Hermies and Havrincourt went to their aid. There was 
an hour in the night when the enemy looked like breaking 
through towards Martinsart, and the commander of the 
Naval Division, who was sleeping deeply, after many nights 
of sleeplessness, was awakened and told that the enemy was 
near. Machine-gun bullets were pattering on the roof of 
the hut while the general put on his boots, but a sharp 
counter-attack drove the enemy back in time. 

Scots of the 51st Division also reached our final posi- 
tions, not without losses, after fierce engagements, in which 
the Highland battalions fought in their old way, which put 
them first on the list of those whom the enemy most fears. 

March 30 
After heavy fighting around Arras, and minor engage- 
ments north and south of the Somme, the battle-front has 
quietened down at the time of writing, and there is one of 


those lulls in which the enemy is reorganizing and devel- 
oping new plans. 

During the last day or two it is becoming evident that 
the German troops are beginning to lose some of the spirit 
which they had in the first advance, and are becoming de- 
pressed and anxious as to the future of their wild gamble 
for decisive victory. One day last week the enemy tried to 
rush Hebuterne, and gained a position in the cemetery, a 
most sinister place of opened graves and broken tombs, 
where he put seven machine-guns in position. Our troops 
determined to fling him out, and advanced upon the ceme- 
tery, but were checked at first by the tattoo of bullets from 
those deadly machines. They came back and reorganized, 
then swept through the village and charged the enemy's 
line, smashing it to pieces. 

I am now allowed to say something about another branch 
of the Service which has had bad luck in this war, though 
always ready for action and eager to play the part which 
was theirs in the old days, prior to high explosives and ma- 

I mean the cavalry. Many cavalrymen have been hold- 
ing sectors of the line as dismounted troops, and have been 
splendid in courage and endurance. But as mounted men 
also they have had a chance now and then, and have done 
a good deal of scouting in the old-fashioned way, especially 
on the right of our line, when the enemy was pushing out 
round Ham and Noyon. 

It was here I saw them a few days ago, when the enemy 
was reported to be moving down from Ham to Guiscard, 
where I happened to be. Nearby a French regiment was 
bivouacked, after a long march to get to our relief, and all 
the villages and fields round about were flooded with the 
blue of French poilas who stood about trying to gather 
from English Tommies what was happening la has. Sud- 
denly there was a clatter of horses' hoofs, and a body of 
mounted men streamed through Guiscard. The sun 
gleamed upon their lances and steel hats, and they were 


good to see. "Oh, for a horse to ride with them I" said a 
friend of mine; and something stirred in one's heart at the 
sight of those men going out on the great adventure. They 
took a ditch at the jump, and rode hard over open coun- 
try towards the enemy. One strange little squadron of 
horse rode out in this way, and I think they were some I 
saw that day. They were signallers, batmen, and strag- 
glers mounted and made into cavalry for a while. But with 
them went a queer detachment of infantry from a variety 
of different regiments, all under an ex-town major, and 
eight Lewis guns, with a battery of R.H.A. They were 
"some crowd," as their commanding officer said. They 
did most gallant work, and in the course of their adven- 
tures charged the enemy and took 150 prisoners. 

Throughout these battles the Royal Horse Artillery has 
been magnificent, moving about in the open in front of the 
enemy, getting into action, firing into the German columns 
advancing on them, riding back, taking up new positions, 
and repeating their performance at short range upon massed 
bodies of troops shattered by this fire. Three batteries dis- 
appeared for three days, and seemed to have been lost in 
the blue. They reappeared in quite a different part of the 
line, having fought all the time in these rear-guard actions. 
It was touch and go several times. Sometimes there were 
gaps between our units, through which the enemy tried to 
break. But often the gaps were filled up at the psycho- 
logical moment by heroic efforts. By constant rear-guard 
actions of stout fighting our withdrawal was covered. 


The Valour of the Men 

April i 
The battle of which I have been trying to give a daily nar- 
rative has been on so vast a scale, filled with so many epi- 
sodes of terrific adventure, and with so many hundreds of 


thousands of men moving along its lines of fire, that I 
find it impossible to give the picture and emotion and spirit 
of it. We out here who knew that this thing was coming 
upon us, creeping nearer every day with its monstrous men- 
ace, held our breath and waited. When at last the thing 
broke it was more frightful in its loosing of overwhelm- 
ing powers than even we had guessed. Since then all our 
armies have lived with intense understanding of the great- 
ness of these days, of their meaning to the destiny of the 
world, and every private soldier or transport driver or 
linesman or labourer has been exalted by an emotion 
stronger than the effect of drugs. They do not say much, 
these men of ours, but there is a queer light in their eyes, 
shining out of faces greyed by sleeplessness, or streaked 
with blood. They laugh in the same old way at any joke 
on the road, and sometimes when shells are bursting close, 
as I heard gusts of laughter following crashes of high 
velocities about some groups of men a day or two ago. 

They go marching up to the battle-line with unfaltering 
feet, their bands leading them on to the edge of its fire zone, 
and it is like a pageant as they pass, these long columns 
of men in steel hats, shouldering heavy packs, with their 
rifles slung and these miles long of transport, and these end- 
less teams of mule drivers and wagon drivers, and streams 
of mounted men. As an onlooker I have been caught up 
in these tides for hundreds of kilometres from south to 
north, and the spirit of these armies on the move seems 
almost visible, as though all emotion in these men's hearts 
were vibrant about one. Men who have just moved up to 
hold the lines are hoping for an attack, so that they can 
smash more enemy divisions. Anger moves in them be- 
cause the enemy threw us back in places by overwhelming 
odds. Now they swear he will be stopped and broken. 
Their own losses do not make them mournful. They wipe 
out of their minds for the time the horrors and tragedy 
they have seen. Fierce exultation at the destruction of the 
enemy, grim pride in repulsing his bloodiest attacks, reso- 


lution to pay back and take back have changed the gentlest 
fellow into a man who handles his rifle or machine-gun with 
a secret promise to himself, ready to stop with his own 
body another German advance. Passion has taken pos- 
session of our men, because they know that if the enemy 
broke through them, all they have fought for would be 
jeopardized, and this four years of war would have been 
in vain for us. That seems to me the only explanation of 
things that have been done by masses of our men, or by 
small bodies isolated in rear-guard actions — astounding 
things in endurance and sacrifice. 

Yesterday I saw some of those men of the 56th, 4th, and 
15th Divisions, who have been fighting in the Battle of 
Arras, heroes of the heaviest blow the enemy has received 
since March 21. There were the London regiments of the 
56th Division amongst them, and their band was playing 
tattoos as evening set in amid the great glory of the gold- 
flamed western sky after a day of storm. The colonel of 
their battalion — it was the London Rifle Brigade — came out 
after a sleep and w r ash and shave. All his kit had been 
lost in a dug-out, but he had borrowed a razor from his 
batman, and nobody would have guessed that this smiling 
man, with perfectly bright eyes and easy manners, had 
just come out of battle, where many of his men fell around 
him under frightful shelling, where he had been firing a 
rifle all day long at crowds of Germans, and where he had 
seen dead bodies piled on dead bodies as the enemy came 
up in waves against the blasts of machine-gun bullets and 
the fire of our field artillery. He spoke just a word or two 
about the tragedy of losing many of his best and bravest, 
then put that thought aside and told of their heroic defence 
and slaughter of the enemy. 

It was great slaughter in that Battle of Arras. From 
documents found on a German airman brought down in 
our lines it is now certain that the enemy had most ambi- 
tious objectives, including the capture of Arras and turning 
of Vimy Ridge. Two German divisions were holding the 


line north of the Scarpe, from Gavrelle to Oppy, and three 
special shock divisions were assembled to pass through and 
turn the ridge from the south, while further south one di- 
vision was to take the heights east of Arras, and a Guards 
division to take Arras itself. 

After that, their objectives were indefinite. This bat- 
talion of the London Rifle Brigade were holding the fore- 
most line by a system of posts in advance of the battle- 
line, among them Mill Post, Bradford Post, and Towie 
Post. The enemy began the battle by concentrating the 
bombardment on these while he gassed support-lines and 
field-artillery positions, and brought his barrage backwards 
and forwards over our main defences down there by Gav- 
relle and Bailleul and Oppy Wood, where one evening be- 
fore March 21 I went to see some of these London lads, 
and saw those sinister ruins and broken trees which three 
days ago were smothered in the fury of fire. Most of the 
posts were blotted out. From one hard by the Westmin- 
sters, a small body of men surrounded by numbers of the 
enemy, fought their way back. An officer of the London 
Rifle Brigade, who has been out since the beginning of the 
war, says he never saw such an intense bombardment, and 
when it lifted the Germans came over in close formation, 
wave after wave. Behind them, at some distance, rode 
the company commanders on horses, and behind them field 
artillery. Each man carried a full pack and an extra pair 
of boots as for a long march, and rations for six days. 
They did not travel far ; they were caught by machine-gun 
fire and literally mown down on the wire. 

Our field-guns made targets of them and tore gaps in 
their waves. Some of them got into our front line, but the 
London Riflemen pulled down parts of their parapet, made 
blocks in their trench and kept them back by bombing and 
rifle-fire. An enemy battery was unlimbered, and Ger- 
man officers strolled up with sticks to point out gaps in 
our wire to their men and were shot down like rabbits. 
These London men fell back to the main defensive line a 


short distance to the rear, and the enemy never penetrated 
this, though all day long he made fresh efforts from 9.45 in 
the morning till 7 in the evening. The London men lost 
many of their comrades in all those hours of bloody, costly 
fighting, but by heroic defence they foiled the enemy's 
most ambitious plan. Our machine-gunners say that they 
were sick of killing, and the colonel of the Rifle Bridage 
used 300 rounds, and each bullet found its mark. 

London troops on the right of these bore the brunt of 
most formidable attacks on the same method as those above. 
Men of the 2nd Essex fought like demons, say their offi- 
cers, in our foremost trenches, and one body of them sent 
back a message that they were going to fight to the death. 
They did, and not a man came back. 

Some Scottish battalions of the 15th Division were hard 
pressed, and had to withdraw till nightfall to the second 
line through Fampoux. Since then, counter-attacks have 
restored a good deal of the ground. 

All day long our aeroplanes reported concentrations of 
troops pouring down the Arras-Cambrai road and other 
routes of march, and the artillery had so many targets that 
they could hardly switch on to them fast enough. Enemy 
losses were fantastic in their horror. Meanwhile, on the 
right again, below the Cambrai road, our men were putting 
up that heroic stand which I have partly described in other 
messages. There the 3rd Division — that wonderful di- 
vision which has fought with dogged courage all through 
the war — were holding the line from the Cambrai road to 
Fontaine Wood. They were not attacked on the 21st, but 
on the following day a big assault broke upon them and was 
repulsed after fierce fighting. The enemy worked round 
south past the 34th Division, but our Guards came up in 
support and killed many of them. On the night of the 
22nd the 3rd Division moved to a line between Wancourt 
and Henin, and until the 28th broke attack after attack in 
spite of their own increasing losses which drained their 
strength until they were but a thin heroic line. They had 


three German divisions and part of a fourth against them, 
and when at last they were relieved the survivors of this 
very gallant division of ours came out singing. Every bat- 
talion of the 3rd Division fought until they were but a rem- 
nant. The Suffolks on the Wancourt-Tilloy road fought 
the enemy both ways, back to back, with Germans on each 
side of them. Parties of Northumberland Fusiliers fought 
until all were killed or wounded. There was a battle of 
eight hours round battalion headquarters. Company com- 
manders fought with rifles until they fell. Scottish Fusi- 
liers at Henin gave ground slowly under enormous odds, 
and killed the enemy all the way back. One of our ma- 
chine-gun batteries counted 400 German dead opposite their 
position. Round Neuville-Vitasse and Henin Hill the en- 
emy bodies lie in heaps. 

All through this battle in shelled areas behind, our traf- 
fic men were controlling roads, timing the arrival of shells 
and passing traffic through between those times. No 
troops have ever fought more bravely than these, and their 
names will be remembered with honour throughout our his- 
tory when all this will seem like a mad, bad dream of a 
world in conflict. 

Away from Arras, and down on the south of the line, a 
certain body of Canadians have been having some of the 
most astounding adventures in all this battle, and, fighting 
with valour and heroic audacity, leave one breathless. 
They are officers and men of a machine-gun detachment 
organized in the early days of war by a French-Canadian 
officer at the expense of himself and ten friends, and with 
waiting enthusiasm which looked forward to the day when 
they would be wanted for great service. That day came on 
March 21, and when I saw this French-Canadian officer 
yesterday, a tall, dark, quiet man, speaking with hidden 
emotion, he knew that his idea was justified, and that his 
officers and men had made good to the uttermost limits of 
gallant service. For ten days these cars have fought run- 


ning fights with German patrols. They have engaged Ger- 
man cavalry and smashed them, checked enemy columns 
crossing bridges and pouring downwards, scattered large 
bodies of men surrounding ours, and in ten days of crowded 
life have destroyed many German storm troops and helped 
to hold up the tide of their advance. Their own losses 
have not been light, for these Canadians have been filled 
with grim passion, determined to die rather than yield to 
any odds, and when that happened they fought and died. 

After the first call on March 21, and orders to move on 
the morning of the 22nd, eight cars were in action the same 
day, 100 kilometres away, after a night without sleep, and 
other detachments followed them quickly. Sometimes they 
fought mounted in these long, grey, open cars, which I 
saw early in the battle, wondering at them, and sometimes 
they fought dismounted, with their machine-guns on the 
ground. But always they fought through ten days and 
nights, with less than twenty hours' sleep all that time. 
These cars near Maricourt gathered together 150 men who 
had been cut off, and held the enemy at bay, covering the 
withdrawal of some of our heavy guns and Tanks. That 
time they fought dismounted, with their Vickers guns in 
front of barbed wire to get observation. The enemy's 
frontal attack was stopped, but he worked round the flanks, 
and a captain of an armoured-car battery ordered his men 
behind the wire. The enemy had to come through a nar- 
row gap and was killed as he came. The Canadians had 
many casualties, and a captain's arm was torn away by an 
explosive bullet, and at last only a sergeant and two pri- 
vates were left unwounded. One of them mounted a mo- 
tor-cycle and brought back the cars and took back the 
wounded. Two cars found the enemy massing up the 
road, and their machine-guns enfiladed these field-grey men 
and killed them in large numbers. 

Near La Motte they fought heavy bodies of German 
cavalry, killed a number, and put the rest to flight. They 


have not been seen since. At Cerisy a battalion of Ger- 
mans, 600 strong, was encountered at cross-roads by one 
car, which brought them to a standstill and dispersed them 
with heavy losses. There was a fierce action also round 
Villers-Carbonnel, where these armoured cars stopped a 
gap of 2500 yards under a Canadian officer, who was twice 
surrounded in villages crowded with Germans, and fought 
his way out. At the second time all the crew were killed 
except the driver, but the officer dismounted, took his gun, 
posted himself at the street corner, and fired on the at- 
tacking Germans until they were quite close, when he 
jumped into the car and drove away. One battery in ac- 
tion, dismounted, ran out of ammunition, but fought with 
bombs until these were spent, and then charged the enemy 
with their fists and empty revolvers and machine-gun bar- 

Everybody is ready to help these cars, and their crews 
carry their loads, for they know what terrible casualties 
they have caused the Huns. At times the enemy — like 
sheep without a shepherd — walk blindly into their guns only 
to be mown down. Everywhere they have been these 
Canadian armoured cars have helped to steady the line and 
give confidence to the infantry. They are the darlings of 
the troops, these grim fighting fellows, with jests on their 
lips and utterly reckless of life, so long as they kill Ger- 
mans. One of their officers is called by the nickname of 
"Canada," and a shout of regret went up when it was 
learnt that he had been blown off his motor-bicycle by a 
shell-burst, and is now a casualty, though not seriously 
wounded. These cars have been in scores of fights, and 
one day their history must be fully written by one of their 
comrades. It is like a romance of boyhood written by 
Mayne Reid or James Grant, and one forgets the tragedy 
of all this blood and death which follows the wake of those 
cars because of the valour and hardihood and adventurous 
spirit of their officers and crews. 


April 2 
Our respite from massed attacks since the last Battle of 
Arras does not mean that the enemy has abandoned his 
ambitious plans to drive a wedge between the British and 
French armies, by making a breach in the lines between 
Amiens and Montdidier and straightening the line of his ad- 
vance to avoid a dangerous salient by overwhelming our 
left flank north of Arras. It is probable that he is paus- 
ing only to drag his guns across the wild waste of the 
Somme battlefield, where there is slow progress, to bring 
new reserves of men into the battle-line, and to prepare 
another blow, as equal in fury to the first effort as his 
means now allow after the bloody losses and heavy en- 
gagements with the French armies on his left wing. 

I doubt whether his next effort will reach anything like 
the strength of that battering-ram which shocked our lines 
on March 21. For twelve days since then his wastage of 
manpower has been incalculable, and every mile of his way 
is strewn with his dead, here and there a few men, here 
and there heaps of mortality. Backwards for those twelve 
days there has flowed a tide of mangled men, filling his 
hospitals and Red Cross trains. Forty at least of his as- 
sault divisions have had to be withdrawn from our front 
after casualties amounting in some cases, as we know, cer- 
tainly to 40 and 50 per cent. Many of his companies and 
battalions have been almost annihilated, only a score or so 
of men going back to tell a frightful tale to their people. 
Our heroic rear-guards foiled his first plans and smashed 
his time-table and broke the spear-heads of his armies, so 
that they had to turn aside in the direction not belonging 
to the great strategical plan of the German High Com- 
mand. Arras is not his. Amiens is not his. The Brit- 
ish armies are still intact, in spite of all losses of men and 
ground, and new French and British armies are at his 
throat, ready to rend him to death if he is for a moment 
at their mercy. 

The enemy knows all this, but is playing for big stakes, 


and their gamblers are ready to throw in all their human 
counters in order to win or lose the last hazard. So they 
will not stop now, because, if they stop, they have already 
lost ; and they are waiting only to gather their forces for a 
final throw. But this delay is our enormous gain. We, 
too, have time to bring up our fresh men to replace those 
who fought until they were spent, and who barred the way 
of the German advance with their bodies and souls. The 
enemy now in his next battle will meet men who are not 
tired, and whose resolution is as great as those who met 
the first onslaught. Australians and New Zealanders have 
come into line, fresh, keen, uplifted by fierce enthusiasm, 
stirred by emotions which make these fellows very dan- 
gerous to their enemy. I saw them coming to the relief 
of our hard-pressed troops, and it was a sight which made 
one's pulse beat, and gave one a sense of new security when 
the full menace was upon us. These Australians came 
swinging down towards the old Somme battlefields with the 
spirit of men to the rescue of great causes. It was their 
business along the line of the Somme, for did they not 
take Pozieres, and is not that blasted slope hallowed for all 
of them by memorials of their own dead, and by the graves 
of many comrades? "We will take Pozieres back," they 
said, "it's our job." To those who fought there under the 
months of furious fire which broke the earth to fine pow- 
der, who went up from Le Sars and into Bapaume on that 
famous day a year ago, the news that the enemy had come 
pouring back over that ground was a shock and a chal- 

They waited impatiently for the call to come, in their 
lines elsewhere. Every hour their impatience grew. 
"When are we going down? It's a darned shame we are 
not on our way." At last the call came, and down the 
roads the Australians came marching with their easy slouch- 
ing step, with their guns and transport and cookers. It was 
like men coming back after foreign travels to the old home 
threatened by invasion. In all the villages behind the 


Somme battlefields they were known. At the sight of their 
slouch hats and their long, clean-shaven "mugs" the vil- 
lagers came out shouting and cheering. "Les Australiens! 
Vive les Australiens." Old women came running to them, 
plucking their loose sleeves, patting their brawny shoulders. 
Girls waved to them, cheering with shrill voices. And these 
fellows grinned, and said, "That's all right. Don't you 
be afraid, kid ; we will give 'em Hell." 

On transport wagons gipsy-looking fellows sat, looking 
down on these scenes with their arms round their dogs. 
Australian gunners, hard as the steel of their 18-pounders, 
rode their mules through the market towns. They were 
eager to begin work. Long columns of Australian in- 
fantry marched day and night to get to the fighting-lines, 
and when I looked down these lines of clean-cut hatchet 
faces the splendour of these men, the grim spirit of them, 
stirred me with a sense of historic drama. The New 
Zealanders followed, spick and span, debonair, lads, with 
the red ribbon round their hats, ruddier than the Austral- 
ians, like country boys from English orchards. It was a 
glory on the roads as they passed. 

Very soon after they went into the battle-line there were 
things doing. They sent out patrols and cleared No Man's 
Land of the Germans. They caught the enemy in ambushes 
and raked him with bullets, and brought in prisoners and 
machine-guns. They slaughtered him in several small at- 
tacks, and drove him out of the villages and woods and 
scared him horribly by day and night. Australians who 
came out since the Somme battles, who have heard endless 
stories of Pozieres and Bapaume with envy, because they 
were not in that epic of their brothers, scouted round and 
said, "Well, nobody can say now we haven't seen the 
Somme, and when are we going up to Pozieres?" 

New Zealand boys have gone out on perilous adventures 
and rounded up many Germans. The day after the arrival 
of these forces I met several of their lads, lightly wounded 
by machine-gun bullets. "We were a bit rash," said one 


of them; "we put our heads into it." But they were sure 
the enemy would get no further. 

English, Irish and Scottish troops, who bore the ter- 
rific shook of the German assaults on the first day of these 
battles, and fought ten days back to our present lines, de- 
serve what rest they now can get, like Ulysses and his men 
after their long voyage. It is impossible for me to nar- 
rate all that I have heard and know about those rear-guard 
fights, because historic episodes are so crowded that one's 
pen cannot write them quickly enough. On that great 
stretch of battlefields, sixty miles long and twenty deep, 
there were crowds of our men all fighting backwards, with 
the enemy pressing them close and leaving lines of dead 
in their wake, and each brigade of ours, each battalion, has 
its own crowded history. 

Among these men were Ulster soldiers, Inniskillings, 
Royal Irish Rifles, and others of the 36th Division — and 
their history is typical of all that happened. The enemy 
broke through on their right flank on March 21 below St.- 
Quentin, and in a fog, so thick that our machine-gunners 
could not see fifty yards ahead, streamed through in col- 
umns. The Inniskilling Fusiliers held on to their forward 
redoubts, including one known as the Racecourse Redoubt, 
until almost surrounded, and then, with other Ulster com- 
rades, fell back beyond the canal, blowing up bridges and 
fighting desperately to defend the bridgeheads against in- 
cessant attacks. The enemy struck in between these 
Ulster troops and battalions of Manchesters, Bedfords, 
Yorkshires, and Scottish Fusiliers of the 30th Division on 
their left, as well as between the Ulstermen and the 14th 
Division, and it was necessary to draw back towards Ham. 
At 1145 on tnat morning a report was received, saying 
that Germans had broken through on both sides of the 
Epine de Dallon, south of St.-Ouentin, and Manchester Re- 
doubt. Five minutes later the 108th Brigade of the Ul- 
ster Division reported the enemy through Gruchies valley. 
The gravest news came when it was reported that the Ger- 


mans had broken through the 14th Division and were at- 
tacking Essigny Station. The 108th Brigade was ordered 
to form a flank west of Essigny and join up with the 14th 
on their right at Lezorolles. During night all these bri- 
gades of the Ulstermen were withdrawn to the north side 
of the canal, and blew up the bridges. Early on the morn- 
ing of the 22nd the 61 st Brigade of the 20th Division held 
the bridgeheads at Tugny and St.-Simon, south of Ar- 
temps, but the Germans drove between the 30th and 36th 
(Ulster) Divisions and compelled a further withdrawal 
to the Somme defences, where for a time they were still 
covered by the brigade of the 20th holding the bridge- 
heads. The enemy was advancing steadily towards Ham 
on the left flank of the Ulstermen from Jussy to Flavy le 
Martel, and there was a gap at Esmery Hallon, between 
the 30th and 36th Divisions. To fill up the gap 200 men 
from a headquarters staff, clerks, servants, and signallers, 
assembled, and with great gallantry these men held their 
ground. Pioneer battalions, among them "Young Citi- 
zens" of Belfast, were given rifles, and became a fighting 
force which beat off heavy attacks. 

The enemy was always trying to surround these Ulster- 
men, and once 200 Germans got behind divisional head- 
quarters and were flung out after sharp fighting by staff 
officers and men. An officer sent through a message, say- 
ing, "I am writing this with one hand, and firing a rifle 
with the other." After continual rear-guard actions for 
five days down to the old German trenches across the Roye 
road, the Ulster troops were supported by French battal- 
ions, but were still called upon to fight while the French 
relief was in progress, although at one time only 300 men 
could be mustered with strength enough to go into action. 
During the last days of the withdrawal a staff officer of 
the division and an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles were 
captured in a motor-car by a German cavalry patrol. Ger- 
man officers took them prisoners, but left the car. Later 
another German patrol captured an Ulster ambulance 


driver, but on the way met a French patrol advancing in 
the darkness of night. The ambulance man shouted out 
"English prisoner," and when the French soldiers fired 
some shots the German took to flight. The Irish am- 
bulance driver went back, salved the derelict motor-car, 
which it punctured with bullet holes, and brought it back 
safely. Afterwards this gallant man spent all that night 
rescuing wounded. This is but an outline of a narrative, 
full of strange, thrilling episodes, in which the men of 
Ulster fought as heroes. So did many other brave men 
in those days of crisis a week ago. 

Nothing is nobler or more tragic in its nobility than the 
last stand of the 16th Manchester of the 30th Division in 
a redoubt called after their own name near St.-Quentin. 
When the enemy was all round them they held on here, 
serving their machine-guns. By means of a buried cable 
they were able to get messages through for some time. 
The last words came from the commanding officer about 
3.20 in the afternoon, when he was slightly wounded. He 
spoke calmly, even cheerily, but said they could not hold 
out much longer as practically every man was hit, and the 
Germans were swarming around. 

'The Manchesters will defend this redoubt to the last 
moment," said this gallant officer. These were his last 
words, and the redoubt was overwhelmed. 

Scottish Fusiliers, Bedfords, Yorkshires, King's Liver- 
pools, and South Lancashire Pioneers fought an astound- 
ing number of rear-guard actions from Roupy and Holnon 
Wood back to Ham, and killed a great number of the en- 
emy, who were like wolves about them. A party of Scot- 
tish Fusiliers, who failed to get the order to withdraw, 
stayed on till the officer felt very lonely, and discovered 
that the enemy was two miles to the rear of him. He led 
his men out, and they marched down the road at night 
with the Germans all round them. Twice they were chal- 
lenged in the darkness, but no attack was made on them, 
and they reached our lines near Ham safely after this ex- 


traordinary adventure. Odd units of the 20th Division 
covered the retirement of the worn-out 30th, and held Ham 
with stragglers and men from the Corps Training School 
and any fellow from any unit who could stand up with a 
rifle, until the enemy broke through to Ham in the early 
morning of March 23. There was a hard rear-guard ac- 
tion at Verlaine by the Scottish Fusiliers, Bedfords, three 
battalions of King's Liverpools, the South Lancashire Pio- 
neers, and the 23rd entraining Battalion, who fell back un- 
der increasing pressure to the Nord Canal, and held a line 
between Liberamont and Bouverchy. The Germans were 
hard on their heels that night of the 24th, and were in the 
village of Esmery Hallon almost before they had left. 
Again and again, after reaching places where they hoped to 
rest awhile, these men were called to fight again, and once 
had to rush out of billets at Arvillers, near Haugest, to 
throw themselves across the road and bar the enemy's way. 
While near the village of Bouchoir, near Roye road, they 
saw a column of German transport crossing this road and 
turning down in the direction where they were in ambush. 
The Scottish Fusiliers wanted to let this transport pass 
them, so that they could bag the lot, but could not be re- 
strained from firing too soon. They emptied German sad- 
dles at twenty yards, and captured some wagons, a water- 
cart, and a field-cooker. The rest of the transport gal- 
loped away wildly, and caused confusion in the German 
lines. So at last these men were relieved, and they stag- 
gered with fatigue and lack of sleep, like thousands of 
other men who had been fighting for a week or more across 
those same fields of war. 

April 3 
One of the most astonishing things in this war is the way 
in which the vitality of youth recovers from the overwhelm- 
ing fatigues of battle, and from its breaking strain upon 
every quivering nerve of our human body. I have de- 
scribed the weariness of our soldiers after a week or more 


of fighting over the Somme battle-grounds, yet nothing I 
have said can give more than a faint idea of the exhaustion 
cf many of these poor lads of ours, after those bad days 
when the enemy was all about them and trying to break 
between them, and they knew that they must hold them or 
we should lose all that we have and are. 

Highlanders of the 51st Division, Black Watch, Gor- 
dons, Camerons, Argyll, and Sutherland men, are as tough 
as any men in our armies, yet some of their officers told 
me that on the last lap of their rear-guard actions they 
were tired almost to death, and when called on to make one 
last effort, after six days and nights of fighting and march- 
ing, many of them staggered up like men who had been 
chloroformed, with dazed eyes and grey and drawn faces, 
speechless, deaf to words spoken to them, blind to the men- 
ace about them, seemingly at the last gasp of strength. 

So it was with West Riding troops of the 62nd Division 
round about Bucquoy, where they had dug a line of defence 
after beating off attacks at Puisieux early in the battle. 
They were assaulted five times, all day and night, by the 
1st Guards Reserve and 3rd German Guards, who had di- 
rect orders to take Bucquoy, and they beat off these waves 
with frightful losses to the enemy and the loss of many of 
our own good men. On the 27th the enemy got into Ros- 
signol Wood, from which a year ago I saw them retreat, 
and the Yorkshiremen were called on to turn them out, 
which they did. Next day they were attacked all along 
the line, and repulsed the German Guards everywhere; and 
for the two following days were fighting patrols inces- 
santly. The Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment 
fought most gallantly, and in one week these men and their 
comrades took prisoners from seven German divisions, 
showing the weight of the numbers against them. A bat- 
talion of Yorkshire Light Infantry had hard luck in a mo- 
ment of crisis, for the enemy swept over a bit of trench 
— one of the old German trenches derelict for twelve months 
till then — and when they turned to take these men in the 


rear, another wave followed on and caught these Yorkshires 
in the back. One platoon was isolated and fought most 
gallantly, refusing to surrender. 

"All my men are very cheery, but very tired," was the 
report of their general at the most critical time. "Being 
attacked," he says, "was the only thing that kept them 


Towards the end of this fighting they had a drunken 
craving for sleep; and slept standing with their heads 
falling against the parapet, slept sitting hunched in ditches, 
slept like dead men when they lay on open ground. But 
they waked again when the enemy attacked once more and 
fought him and killed him, and dozed off again. In body 
and brain these men of ours were tired to the point of 
death. They were footsore, and their limbs were stiff, and 
they felt like old, old men. That is the astounding thing. 
Yesterday I went again among those Highlanders, who 
fought so long and so hard, and upon my faith it was al- 
most impossible to believe that they were the same men. 
Their pipers were marching up and down the roads play- 
ing "Highland Laddie" and other tunes of Scotland, and 
the Gordons and the Seaforths and the Argylls stood about 
in the evening sunshine like men on a village green, taking 
their ease in times of peace. Their kilts were dirty and 
stained, but they had washed off the dirt of battle and 
shaved, and cleaned their steel hats, and the tiredness had 
gone out of their eyes, and their youth had come back to 

A colonel of the Seaforths came round the corner, with 
his bonnet cocked to a jaunty angle. He had been through 
hell fire, but there was no smoulder of it in his smiling eyes 
as I saluted him. Early in the German attack on March 
21 the enemy worked round behind his battalion headquar- 
ters in the fog, having pierced down the gully of the Queant- 
Pronville Valley after a frightful bombardment which de- 
stroyed our defensive works there. With the colonel was 
a padre and a doctor in his dug-out, and when the machine- 


gun bullets came, like the crack of whips outside, he said 
to them : "You had better get back, the enemy is pretty 
close." They obeyed his order and went out, but were cap- 
tured at once by the German troops swarming down. The 
6th and 7th Black vVatch had been practically cut off. 

Away in the front line was a gunner officer in an ob- 
servation post with a telephone. He spoke over the wire. 
"There are Boches in the reserve line," he said. Then, 
after a short silence, "there are Boches in my trench." Then 
some other words came down the telephone, "they are 
bombing my o-pip." Those were the last words he spoke. 

In another post with a telephone a Scottish officer kept 
up messages for half an hour, though the enemy had 
streamed behind him. 

At two o'clock that day the enemy having driven south- 
east by Boursies got into Doignies, retaken for a time, as 
I have told before, by Tanks and English troops of the 
19th Division. But the enemy's progress made things hard 
for the Highlanders, who were in danger of being out- 
flanked, and orders were given for withdrawal. Next day 
the enemy followed them up, and attacked in three waves 
near Hermies, and were flung back with exceedingly heavy 

Groups of the 7th Argylls were posted in sunken roads 
by Demicourt, and their machine-guns swept down platoons 
and companies of Germans who came within the field of 
fire. The Guards who attacked them came over not in steel 
helmets, but in pickelhaube, for pride and glory. Others 
who came against the Scots were the famous "Cockchafers," 
or Maikaefer, whose regiment was cut up by Welsh bat- 
talions on Pilkem Ridge. But it was necessary to with- 
draw again, as the enemy was advancing on the left by 
Morchies and Vaux Vraucourt and Beaumetz. 

There were a number of heavy guns in Beaumetz, and 
the Highlanders were determined to save them at all risks. 
At night steam-tractors went up into the village, with Ger- 
mans close to them all round, and hitched their caterpillars 


to the guns and brought them out under the very noses of 
the enemy, and saved every one. 

The Pioneers of the Highland regiments, with field-com- 
manders of engineers and odd units, made a perimeter de- 
fence of Beugny, with a body of 6th Gordons commanded 
by an officer who has appeared in many of my little pictures 
of this war since the Battle of Loos and the days at Martin- 
puich, when he served with other Gordons — the 8-ioth — 
of that gay and gallant crowd. Wounded in the battle of 
Flanders, he had only come back to France a little while, 
and now, outside Beugny, was wounded again in the leg. 
His men carried him out on a stretcher, and on the way 
back he was wounded again in the leg. The enemy was 
still advancing like a tide. While English troops of the 
41st Division held the lines outside Bapaume, the Jocks 
passed through these ruins, refreshing themselves in an 
abandoned canteen where there were fresh eggs and bis- 
cuits, and so came to Loupart Wood, which overlooks a 
great stretch of that desolate world of Somme battlefields, 
where thousands of little white crosses tell of strife that 
passed over this mangled earth. Over old places, like Pys 
and Miraumont, where they had fought two years before, 
these Highlanders marched now, leaning against each other, 
some holding hands like children, falling into deeps of sleep 
whenever they halted for a brief spell, with the enemy try- 
ing to encircle them, and with heroic rear-guard actions 
being fought all round them. 

A queer, friendly message came to them almost at the 
journey's end. It was from the enemy, sent over in a 
small balloon : 

"Good old $ist Division. Sticking it yet. Cheery oh!" 

That balloon and message now belong to a Scottish 
sergeant, who would not part with them for any gold. 

Some of the most resolute rear-guard fighting in these 
recent battles was done by some battalions of Manchester 
and other Lancashire troops of the 42nd Division round 


about Bihucourt, Bucquoy, and Ayette — that village was 
recaptured to-day by a brilliant little attack — when the 
enemy was pouring down over the Arras-Bapaume road. 

After beating off the enemy and restoring the line 
through Ervillers, Behagnies, and Sapignies, these men 
were ordered to hold another line further back, and in the 
most orderly way, as though on field manoeuvres, made that 
movement in three stages in face of the enemy. To cover 
their withdrawal, they made three counter-attacks with their 
rear-guards, and Lancashire Fusiliers swept into Behagnies 
at bayonet-point. It was not the only bayonet charge made 
by these Lancashire troops. The 6th Manchesters broke 
the German line near Ablainzeville, and brought out a num- 
ber of German officers and men as prisoners, with several 
machine-guns. It was the Manchesters also who attacked 
Bihucourt with Tanks on the afternoon of March 25 and 
cleared it of the enemy until fresh hordes bore down. From 
the first these Lancashire men fought with grim, fierce 
spirit, to hold back the enemy tide. 

A crowd of men of Yorkshire took their band with 
them into battle "for sake of swank," said one of their of- 
ficers who is proud of it, and that music playing gay tunes 
with beat of drums was like wine to weary men, and 
cheered up all the troops in their neighbourhood. 

No historian will ever be able to tell in full the narrative 
of the last twelve days, with all the adventures of thou- 
sands of men moving across barren country with masses of 
Germans on their flanks, where every man had had hair- 
breadth escapes, and every battalion an historic episode, 
and every division an Iliad of its own. 

I wonder if the people at home are tired of reading of 
these things, bored with what I write, wishing I had time 
and strength to tell much more, to pay some small tribute 
to all those brave fellows who do not ask for praise, but 
like to think that their folk at home know what they have 
done to save their country in its hours of gravest danger, 


at all risks of life and limb, and to the very last ounce of 
their bodily strength. The writing of these things is eas- 
ier than the doing of them. The reading of them is easier 
still, so easy that it may make no deep impression on the 
imagination and heart of the world. To us out here, meet- 
ing these men, seeing the look of them after their battles, 
knowing the ground over which they came, hearing the 
shell-fire that came out of woods and roads on their way, 
and having a clear knowledge of their danger and suffering 
and sacrifice, greater than I can put into words, in a battle 
more stupendous than the mind can picture, all the crowds 
of men who have come through seem like supernatural be- 
ings, men who have passed through the gates of death, he- 
roes of a mythology which we know to be true. 

They are just simple lads, nobodies, as a friend of mine 
calls them, not endowed with supernatural qualities, not 
even braver than men in the bulk, not finding any sport in 
all this, not indifferent to death or pain or the fright of high 
explosives, yet sticking it, fighting through, never giving 
up their pride of spirit because they knew that every old 
thing was up against them, and if they failed all might be 
lost. So to get a salute from one of these private soldiers 
is an honour, as though a great captain saluted one, and to 
talk with any officer who has been through these things 
fills one with a sense of having been in touch with some fa- 
mous character of history. For what these men have done, 
these nobodies, whose names are unknown, who have come 
from little villas in London, and from Lancashire ware- 
houses, and Yorkshire moors, and the sweet Devonshire 
lanes, and the wide Scottish moors, and the wet moist wind 
of southern Ireland, and the streets of Belfast, will be fa- 
mous for all time in history, and any man who fought down 
from the Cambrai salient or St.-Quentin will be like those 
who were with Henry at Agincourt. And the fewer men 
the greater share of honour; for there were not enough of 
them against the German tides, yet enough to save us all. 


April 4 
Our capture of the village of Ayette yesterday with six 
officers and nearly 200 men was heartening to our troops as 
a sign that the tide is turning against the enemy. 

Those German storm troops who passed, division through 
division, and in vast numbers surged after our rear-guards 
on to the Somme battlefields and across the country of their 
old retreat beyond Bapaume and Peronne, leaving a wake 
of dead and wounded behind them all the way, have not 
come into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor into 
cities good to sack. They have behind them now, as we 
had behind us, many miles deep of awful desolation. There 
is no cover there from wind or rain or high explosives, 
no billets in which weary soldiers may find dry beds and 
warmth, no roofs to any houses, no houses to any shell- 
broken walls. Far beyond the Somme battlefield and the 
furthest range of our guns in 1916, the enemy himself laid 
waste to everything that could be blown up or burnt. He 
made a bonfire of Bapaume and its surrounding hamlets. 
He wrecked all the beauty of Peronne, with its Renaissance 
houses and public buildings. With torches and axes and 
explosive charges he destroyed all the habitations over a 
long belt of country, so that when our men followed they 
should have no kind of comfort and be aghast at this deso- 
lation. Now they have come back to that waste of their 
own making, and back across the battlefields of the Somme, 
where, for many miles more it is more frightful, because 
every kilometre of this earth is a ghastly reminder to these 
Germans of the things they suffered there, of their blood 
that flowed there in that old blood-bath of the Somme, 
as they called it, and of the agonies and tortures in the 
ditches which still wind through this mangled earth, 
though filled now with rank grass, hiding the bones of men 
and half-buried bodies. Not a pleasant place for German 
divisions behind their present battle-lines, not more pleas- 
ant than a cold, wet hell, where the spectres of slaughtered 


men crowd at night round the German sentries and masses 
of men sleeping under rain-soaked blankets. 

It has been raining hard these two nights past and this 
morning, and I know what those fields of the Somme up 
by Contaimaison and Courcelette and along the valley of 
the Ancre look like after rain. I know how sticky is the 
earth there at Pozieres, so that one's feet sink into its 
slime. I know how deep are those rain-filled shell-holes, 
and how those undrained trenches become rivers. 

For the German gunners, trying to drag up field artil- 
lery or long-range guns, there is now bog to come through. 
It is hard work for the German field-companies, pressed 
furiously to lay narrow gauge lines over these deserts, ac- 
cording to the orders of the High Command, who insist 
on the lines being run out almost as quickly as their men 
advance in the attack, so that the material of war may 
be brought up. Their rail-heads and dumps are in the 
mud through which our men struggled in the winter of 
1 9 1 6, and their transport is wallowing in ruts and old 
wrecked trenches. All that spells delay in their plans and 
loss of life. 

For they are not resting quietly in this waste below the 
dripping skies. Our guns are harassing all this open coun- 
try with heavy shells. By day and night our aeroplanes 
are out with tons of bombs, keeping important cross-roads 
under deadly fire, so that their transport has had to aban- 
don some main roads and take to wild tracks across crater 
land; bombing bodies of men lying in the open or in col- 
umn of march, pouring high explosives down on their am- 
munition dumps, rail-heads, aerodromes, and assembly 
places. There is terror for the enemy over these fields in 
daylight and darkness, for our flying men have gone out 
in squadrons to scatter death and destruction among them. 
This work has reached fantastic heights of horror for 
the German troops under the menace of it. There have 
been times when I believe we have had as many as 300 
aeroplanes up at one time. One squadron alone on one 


night dropped six tons of bombs over enemy concentra- 
tions, and each man went out six times. Another squad- 
ron went out four times in one night, and was bombing 
for eleven hours. When the enemy was advancing in masses 
our flying men flew as low as ioo feet, dropping bombs 
among them, and firing into them with machine-guns. 
They attacked German patrols of cavalry, and scattered 
them, and machine-gunned trenches full of men and bat- 
teries in action and transport crowding down narrow roads. 
They fought German scouts and crashed them, and there 
are several cases in which they fought German aeroplanes 
at night, so that it was like a fight between vampire bats 
up there where the clouds were touched by the moon- 
light. The enemy retaliates as best he can, and suddenly 
into the quiet villages behind our lines comes the noise of 
bursting shells like a salvo of heavy guns, as in a village 
where I was on Tuesday, and the peasants driving their 
carts or children playing in the roadway are killed or 
wounded by the thunderbolts out of the grey sky. It is 
not a pleasant kind of war. The cruelty of it all sickens 
one, and the nightmare of it darkens one's spirit. The 
enemy is as ruthless of civilian life as of any other, and in 
addition to his bombing of innocent places ranges his long 
guns onto remote little towns where old market women are 
selling their poultry, and girls are cleaning their shop win- 
dows, and war until then has seemed far away. 

Yesterday I went again among some of the men who 
have come back, and all the time as I moved among them 
and saw them marching the last lap and settling into billets 
in an old French village and greeting comrades whom they 
had given up for lost, and prefacing the story of their own 
adventures with queer gusts of laughter, as men who have 
seen strange things and had amazing luck, those words 
kept ringing through my head and heart, "the men who have 
come back," "the men who have come back," like some old 
song. . . . Yes, there were some more of them, and one 
among them whom I desired to see most among these men 


who have come back from great peril in ten days of bat- 
tle. They were men of Sussex and Hampshire and many 
other counties, and they marched with their transport on 
that last lap from the battle-lines, through country like 
their own southern shires of England. Sweat poured down 
their faces after coming down the long trail with the enemy 
about them, and they walked stiffly, with drag of feet. 
But most of them looked wonderfully hard and fit, and 
they came whistling down winding lanes which led to vil- 
lages, with Norman gateways and high, gabled houses, and 
little old churches and market-places of quaint architec- 
ture. They dumped their packs in the market-place, teth- 
ered their horses next to the church, and searched around 
for their billets. It was good — a good picture for any ar- 
tist. Some of the officers had their billet in an estaminet, 
and round its table gathered a group of engineers who have 
been making counter-attacks as well as trenches, and blow- 
ing up Germans as well as bridges, and holding gaps in the 
line and acting as machine-gunners and riflemen as well as 
doing their own job of field-companies. They had lost 
their transport by an accident on a crowded road. They 
had lost their commanding officer and other good com- 
rades, but now the men who came back would be able to 
rest awhile after that long trail back from Chalk Quarry, 
near our old front lines, where I saw them last before the 
battle. With few francs in their pockets they had bought 
teacups and a coffee-pot which would do for tea, and they 
had some margarine in a tin and some ration bread, and 
now sat down for the first time to a mess table again. But 
the billeting officer, a young Scotsman, slept like a tired 
child between his bites of bread and butter, waking up with 
a start when a brother officer jerked his elbow, and a cap- 
tain drowsed in the middle of a story of how a transport 
was destroyed; and a lieutenant of engineers, with a bul- 
let mark down his cheek, did not remember the day of the 
week on which anything had happened, because the nights 
had merged into days, and there was no sleep, and no reck- 


oning of time in the wild nightmare of rear-guard actions. 

It was in a village crowded with French and British 
troops — clumps of khaki and bouquets of blue, all min- 
gled in market-square — that I met the man I most wanted 
to meet. He was a gunner officer lost in the turmoil of 
battle for twelve days past, and now among the men who 
have come back. There was a greeting of "Hullo, old 
man!" which is the usual greeting of those who meet after 
this battle, and then laughing stories of a hot time and 
field-guns fighting an eight days' rear-guard action, kill- 
ing Germans at close range with open sights, galloping 
off to take up new positions, unlimbering again for an- 
other action, nearly surrounded a dozen times, but back at 

I have a coloured rag as souvenir of that battery's ac- 
tion, and I shall keep it in safe custody. It is a French 
tricolour scarf given to this brigade of artillery by a French 
officer as a token of esteem for valour. It is a good bit 
of colour beside me as I write, and a reminder of the gal- 
lant men — the men who have come back, not forgetting 
those good comrades who will never come back. 

April 5 
Heavy attacks by the enemy are in progress to-day north 
of the Somme from Albert to Aveluy Wood against our 
12th, 63rd, and 17th Divisions. As far as my knowledge 
goes up to the hour of writing, when there is not such cer- 
tain news, their only gain this morning was to bite off a 
small salient opposite the village of Dernancourt, across the 
railway from Amiens to Albert. We are now counter- 
attacking them at this place. 

The enemy's attack was in considerable strength — I be- 
lieve it may be reckoned as something like six German 
divisions on a battle-front of some 9000 yards, or one regi- 
ment to every 600 yards, which is rather formidable odds 
against our men. It became clear this morning that they 
have used the past few days of comparative inactivity to get 


many of their guns over the bogged ground of the Somme 
battlefields, for their barrage-lire, which preceded the attack, 
was heavy and deep, reaching to villages several thousand 
yards behind our front. 

Our troops in this district are defending their positions 
resolutely, and first reports indicate that the German storm 
troops are suffering under our machine-gun fire after being 
shelled in their assembly places by our heavy and field 
artillery, so that once again the spilling of German blood 
goes on apace. 

Further north there is separate fighting in progress to-day 
round about the village of Ayette — such a wretched little 
place of brickdust and broken walls when I saw it last on the 
way from Arras to Bapaume — and the enemy is trying to 
recapture this place which we took from him two days ago. 

South of the Somme to-day most of the fighting was 
against French troops, so that I know very little about it, 
because the army of our Allies is outside my province. 
English troops fought shoulder to shoulder with the "For- 
get-me-nots," as the pollus call themselves, and the action 
was very fierce on both sides. The enemy had a prodigious 
number of men engaged, and from twelve to fourteen Ger- 
man divisions have been identified, including three Guards' 
divisions. These are the 3rd, commanded by Prince Eitel 
Friedrich, who commanded the attack on Fort Douaumont 
in the Battle of Verdun; the Guards' reserve division; the 
4th Guards Division ; and elements of the famous Branden- 
burg Corps. The main result of the day's fighting, which 
was of extreme severity, was the enemy's gain of the village 
of Hamel, south-east of Corbie, on the Somme, somewhat 
straightening the line of his advance in the direction of 
Amiens. It is quite obvious that if his intention is to strike 
for Amiens itself along the valley of the Somme, challeng- 
ing another great battle and our forces in liaison with the 
French, he must at all costs push forward his line across the 
little River Ancre, north of Albert, in order to avoid an 
acute salient. I have no doubt that this is the object of his 


attack in that neighbourhood to-day, for already his salient 
south of the Somme is so dangerous to him that our field- 
guns are shooting his men in the back. 

From what I could gather to-day the present action is 
merely a straightening-out process by the enemy, and is not 
another great drive, which I believe he will certainly at- 
tempt later if his object is attained in these manceuvrings 
for positions. Meanwhile we keep him pinned across the 
Ancre and hold our flank firmly on the north bank of the 
Somme, east of Amiens. Our troops there are fighting 
with the most dogged resolution to foil his plans. 

New Zealanders, Australians, and other troops, in sharp 
actions with initiative on their side, captured this morning 
120 and 130 prisoners in two assaults on the enemy's line, 
not including several officers. These troops of ours are full 
of spirit, and the enemy is having a bad time from their 

April 8 
Last night and early to-day the enemy's guns were firing 
heavily along parts of our line, and this morning, when I 
went south of the Somme, this bombardment continued. 
It is almost beyond doubt preparatory to another phase of 
the German offensive, in which they may again attempt to 
drive a wedge between us and the French. They have still 
large concentrations of troops north and south of the river, 
and as the days pass they are bringing more guns into posi- 
tion. At the same time they are demonstrating further 
north, by very heavy shell-fire around Arras, and further 
north than that, by Armentieres and La Bassee Canal, where 
they put over many gas shells last night. It is quite possible 
that they will make another strong attempt to turn our de- 
fences round Arras, while at the same time striking hard 
for Amiens, and hoping by success south of the Somme to 
make our positions untenable from Albert above the valley 
of the Ancre. Those are obvious intentions, as clear as 
sunlight to the enemy, so that we need make no mystery of 


them to ourselves, but there is a wide gulf between intention 
and achievement, and German storm troops have learnt very 
painful, tragic lessons lately, which have given pause to 
their High Command. Nevertheless, their menace is 
serious, and will only be thwarted this time, as before, by 
the enormous courage of our troops. 

There was a heavy wet mist this morning, amounting to 
a thick white fog in low-lying ground, and it was such a 
morning as that of March 21, when the German avalanche 
began to move. With the noise of loud gun-fire in con- 
tinuous thunder-rolls, it seemed to me certain that another 
great battle was beginning, but no reports had been re- 
ceived up to midday, and I could get no news of any im- 
portant German action. But the storm of battle may break 
out again at any moment, and upon the issue of this next 
phase depends the enemy hopes and our security. 


The Drive Across to Lys 

April 9 

A heavy and determined attack was begun against us this 
morning a considerable distance north of our recent battles, 
on about eleven miles of front, between Armentieres and 
the La Bassee Canal. So far as news comes to us up to this 
afternoon, the enemy has succeeded in driving through our 
outpost lines, while our troops are holding him by Givenchy 
on the right and about Fleurbaix on the left. 

This new attack was preceded by a long, concentrated 
bombardment, which has gradually been increasing during 
the last day or two, until it reached wild heights of fury last 
night and early this morning. The enemy has used poison 
gas in immense quantities, and it may be estimated that 
during the night he flung over 60,000 gas shells in order to 
create a wide zone of this evil vapour and stupefy our gun- 
ners, transport, and infantry if they were caught without 
their masks, which is improbable. His gun-fire reached out 
to many towns and villages behind our lines, like Bethune 
and Armentieres, Vermelles and Philosophe, Merville and 
Estaires, and this did not cease round Armentieres until 
11.30 this morning, though further south, from Fleurbaix, 
his infantry attack was in progress at an early hour, cer- 
tainly by eight o'clock, and his barrage lifted in order to let 
his troops advance. The strength of his attack is not yet 



known with any certainty, but three divisions are in that 
area, including the 44th Reserve, the 81st and the 10th 
Ersatz, and it is probable that he has other forces engaged. 

Part of our line was held by Portuguese troops, who, for 
a long time, have been between Laventie and Neuve 
Chapelle holding positions which were subject to severe 
raids from time to time. They are now in the thick of this 
battle, most fiercely beset, and unfortunately giving ground 
too rapidly. 

It is a battle over old and famous ground, where, early in 
this war, there was most deadly strife during the struggle 
round Neuve Chapelle in March of 191 5, and at Festubert. 
It is ground where our Indian infantry attacked again and 
again with most gallant courage, and where, afterwards, the 
survivors held the lines through the spring and summer, 
so that the flat fields all round, with fringes of willows 
along the narrow canals that intersect all this moist land 
and villages beyond, like Estaires and Laventie and places 
of ruin like La Gorgue and Richebourg and Ouinque Rue, 
will be for ever haunted with memories of those dark-eyed 
men who to French peasants seemed fairylike princes and 
figures out of Arabian Nights' tales. They disappeared 
long ago, through the mists of these flats, to other fighting 
fields, in other countries. 

Suddenly the enemy has struck, and the centre of strife 
for a moment has shifted. It is an awkward ground for 
attack, and bad weather for such ground, because the enemy 
has to advance across dead-flat marshes, cut through and 
through by an intricate system of canals, which must be all 
flooded now, after heavy rain and shell-fire, which has 
broken the banks. All the enemy's efforts this morning 
do not seem to have carried him far through those marshes, 
and up to the time I write his storm troops are being held 
back and shattered by machine-gun fire before Givenchy, 
outside an outpost in the marshes sap, and at a place called 
Picantin, in front of Laventie. If he gets no farther, his 
venture will be futile except as a demonstration in order 


to weaken our reserves by further casualties and increase 
the strain on our main defence. Meanwhile his own losses 
must be reaching prodigious figures. To-day again many 
of his men lie dead in those swamps by Neuve Chapelle. 

April io 
In my message yesterday I told as much as was known 
of the attack which began in the morning against the Brit- 
ish and Portuguese troops between Armentieres and 
Givenchy, on the La Bassee Canal, the strength and purpose 
of it being then uncertain. It is now clear that this battle, 
still in progress to-day, is a new and formidable offensive 
with large objectives, and is not merely a demonstration to 
withdraw our troops from the area of the Somme. It is 
also made certain by this new thrust that the German High 
Command have decided to throw the full weight of their 
armies against us in an endeavour to destroy our forces in 
Northern France instead of dividing their efforts by strik- 
ing also at the French. 

I believe their plan is to edge off as much as possible 
from the French armies, holding them in check by defensive 
fighting and counter-attacks, in order to concentrate their 
masses of men and guns opposite the British lines and hurl 
them in a series of blows, now on our right and now on our 
left, following each success as far as its possibilities admit. 
It is a menace which calls for the supreme effort of the 
armies of the nation and the Allies. 

Yesterday, the enemy struck north on our left, beginning, 
as I have said, in the flat grounds opposite Neuve Chapelle 
as the centre of the thrust, with Fleurbaix north and 
Givenchy south, and extending this morning further north 
still, above Armentieres, and including the ridge of Mes- 
sines. The 34th and 40th Divisions were on the left of the 
Portuguese, and the 55th on their right. 

As yesterday, so to-day, they have succeeded in break- 
ing through parts of our first defensive systems, and their 
threat this morning was most vehement in the neighbour- 


hood of Estaires, although our counter-attacks have since 
driven the enemy back part of the way. Enormous gun- 
fire was directed against our positions along all this line last 
night again, after yesterday morning's bombardment, and 
continued without pause through a very unquiet night, 
when all through the hours this tumult of great guns beat 
upon one's ears with continued drum-fire, and all the sky 
was full of flame and light. 

This morning, again, when I went up into French Flan- 
ders and through villages which the enemy has been shell- 
ing, regardless of women and children there, this frightful 
unceasing thunder was as loud as ever and told one without 
further news that the battle was still going on and that the 
Germans were extending its zone. 

I have told in my previous message the first outline of 
what happened yesterday, but there is more to tell. The 
great achievement of the day on the part of our troops en- 
gaged was the magnificent stand of the 55th Division — all 
Lancashire troops — who held our right flank firm against 
fierce, repeated attacks, some four times stronger than them- 
selves in numbers, and who, when the Portuguese troops on 
their left were broken, formed flank on their left, and so 
withstood the enemy's hammer blows that at the end of the 
day and this morning our line was still unbroken there. 
Givenchy was still ours, and the enemy's waves of men lay 
shattered in front of them, and 750 prisoners were in our 

It was a tragedy for the Portuguese that the heaviest 
bombardment, in a storm of gun-fire as atrocious in its fury 
as anything of the kind since March 21, was directed 
against the centre which they held. It was annihilating 
to their outposts and smashed their front-line defences, 
which were stoutly held. It beat backwards and forwards 
in waves of high explosives from the trench line opposite 
Neuve Chapelle to the second line opposite Fauquissart and 
Richebourg St. Vaast. Large numbers of heavy guns also 
searched behind these defence systems for cross-roads, am- 



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munition dumps, railways, villages, and headquarters of 
units, while Portuguese batteries were assailed with gas 
shells and flying steel. The Portuguese front line was 
overwhelmed by this intensity of bombardment, and their 
line had to fall back to the second system. This was at- 
tacked by enemy assault troops, and between six and seven 
in the morning they had reached Fauquissart. The bar- 
rage lifted at seven o'clock for a general attack on the 
second line. Here the strongest body of the Portuguese 
troops made some kind of a stand, but by eleven o'clock 
the Germans had forced a way through to Laventie, and the 
position round Fleurbaix was threatened. They were then 
holding a line through Richebourg St. Vaast and Laventie, 
but it was difficult to make a stand here as the Portuguese 
troops had by that time been put out of action. 

The Portuguese field artillery served their guns as long 
as possible and destroyed the breech blocks whenever it was 
inevitable to leave a gun behind. Portuguese gunners at- 
tached to our heavy batteries behaved with real courage, 
firing and laying and carrying up ammunition all through 
the battle under dangerous shelling, and our artillery officers 
report that nothing could have been better than the way 
they stuck it. One battalion of their infantry also held on 
gallantly to Lacouture until two o'clock in the afternoon, 
when they were charged by the enemy. 

This enemy advance in the centre straight through the 
Portuguese put a severe strain upon the 55th, who were 
already sustaining terrific attacks on the right by Givenchy. 
Many of these Lancashire men had been in their billets 
sleeping peacefully when news of the battle came the night 
before last, and they had to turn out at once and go straight 
to the trenches under an abominable fire. 

If all of them were like the lad I met this morning in 
charge of an escort of German prisoners, sitting on top of 
a ladder, with his steel hat on the back of his head while 
he told me of his astounding adventures in the dialect of 
Warrington, for all the world like a music-hall comedian, 


in spite of the horrors which he had seen and now 
described, they must have been remarkable fellows. Op- 
pressed as I was with a sense of tragedy, this boy's mono- 
logue, with the snarl of shrapnel as musical accompaniment, 
made me laugh, as he sat up there with his funny face say- 
ing the drollest things. But it wasn't a comedy at all for 
those Lancashire men. It was grim fighting in a bad little 
corner of hell. For that was Givenchy yesterday and to- 
day. The enemy attacked it in crowds, and captured it in 
the morning, in spite of the deadly rifle and machine-gun 
fire from these men of the 55th Division. He was hurled 
out again by parties of bombers and riflemen, but returned 
to the attack and regained half the village. Then in the 
night these Lancashire lads, many of them new drafts just 
arrived in France, counter-attacked once more, and drove 
the enemy clean out and further back than where he had 
started. They also took over 700 prisoners, whom I saw 
to-day, and a very hefty crowd of grey wolves they were, 
in spite of some boys in glasses, who were under the aver- 
age size. The rest of them were tall, strapping fellows, 
and did not look cowed by their capture. Some of them 
had lost their way in the fog, which otherwise was to their 
advantage, because in some places they penetrated between 
Portuguese posts before they were seen. But one lot 
strayed hopelessly, and came into one of our communica- 
tion saps. 

"Now, boys/' said one of our officers, "get your bombs 
ready and shout." 

"We did shout," said the Lancashire lad with the funny 
face. "Then these Johnnies put up their hands and said 
'Kamerad,' just as you read in t' picture papers, and I took 
ten of 'em, though I'm only nineteen." 

In hard fighting the Lancashires and Yorkshires took 
most of their men, and these Germans are crestfallen, for 
before the battle a document was read out to them saying 
that the 55th Division in front of them was not to be feared 
because it was very weak and very tired, and the German 


storm troops would be attacking in the proportion of three 
regiments to six British companies, and would have no 
trouble. On the left beyond the flank of the 55th Division 
the situation was more serious, and parties of the enemy 
crossed the River Lys and got into the neighbourhood of 
Croix du Bac and to the outskirts of Estaires. They were 
apparently not in big numbers there, and this morning were 
driven back over the Lys. In the centre, where the Portu- 
guese were forced to fall back, the weight of the German 
attack then fell on the British troops, who fought magnifi- 
cent defensive actions. Counter-attacks were also made 
with the greatest gallantry. Near another place, called 
Huit Maisons, or Eight Houses, some of our men held out 
in an outpost for many hours and kept the enemy back by 
their fire. 

From captured maps and other information it is proved 
that the enemy had most ambitious objectives yesterday, 
which should have brought him to the outskirts of Bethune 
on the canal bank ; but owing to the brave fighting of our 
men he was not able to achieve this purpose. Two German 
aviators brought down in our lines say that yesterday's 
battle was only the beginning of a great attempt north on a 
twenty-five-mile front, and this is borne out by the exten- 
sion of the attack to-day above Armentieres and up by the 
Messines Ridge. Of that most northerly attack I know 
as yet little, because I was in a region further south this 

April ii 
Yesterday afternoon and to-day the enemy has exerted all 
his strength in men and guns in the battle now raging from 
the River Lys to Wytschaete, and our troops have been 
fighting without respite to hold him on our main defensive 
positions and thrust him back from important ground by 
repeated counter-attacks. 

Once again our men are outnumbered — the same men 
like the 50th, 51st, 55th, 9th, 19th, and 25th Divisions who 


fought until they could hardly stand in the week that fol- 
lowed March 21. It is only by the courage and stubborn 
will of battalions weakened by losses, and of small parties 
holding out with grim valour, and of individual soldiers 
animating their comrades by acts of brave example that 
the enemy has been unable to make rapid progress, and, at 
Wytschaete and Messines, has been flung back for a time 
with the most bloody losses. 

Our men of the 34th and 50th Divisions have had to give 
ground along the Lys Canal south of Armentieres, blowing 
up bridges behind them and the railway bridge at Armen- 
tieres, and the enemy is now trying to thrust forward 
south of Merville by bending back our line from Lestrem 
and getting his guns across the Lys. This he has been able 
to do in some places by temporary bridges, which we have 
shelled to pieces as he crossed, and under our fire his engin- 
eers are trying to build a stronger bridge south-west of 
Erquinghem, where, in happier days, we had a Red Cross 
Hospital. We have had to fall back from Armentieres, 
holding the line from Nieppe to Steenwerck, and the city 
of Armentieres, where once there was gay life even in time 
of war, with many bright little restaurants and tea shops, 
until the enemy poured shell-fire over them and filled all 
the houses and cellars with poison gas, is now a kind of 
No Man's Land between the lines. 

This morning the ceaseless tumult of gun-fire was loud 
and terrible over all this countryside, and there were strange 
and thrilling scenes on all the roads leading to the battle 
zone, where our infantry and gunners were going forward 
to stem the tide, and masses of transport moved, and 
civilians passed them in retreat to villages outside the wide 
area of shell-range, and wounded men came staggering 
down afoot if they could walk, or were brought down by 
ambulances threading their way through all this surge and 
swirl of war if they were badly hit. No man who had any 
strength to walk would use an ambulance wanted for 
weaker comrades, and I saw some little groups of English 


and Scottish soldiers with bandaged arms and heads stand- 
ing about for rest on their way back, chatting quietly to 
villagers, old women and girls, mixed up in a most tragic 
way with the scenes of war which have suddenly engulfed 
their homes as the tide beats closer. Here and there: 
stretcher-bearers waited with their burdens on the road- 
sides, among them men of the Black Watch of the o/thi 
Division with the red heckle in their bonnets, calm and 
grave like statues, beside their wounded comrades lying 
there with white upturned faces and never a murmur or 

They were the heroes who yesterday, with gallant hearts, 
came up at a great pace when the enemy was in Wytschaete 
and Messines, and in a fierce counter-attack the South 
African Scots of the 9th Division drove him off the crest 
of the ridge and dealt him a deadly blow. There on that: 
high ground which we won in battle last June, when Eng- 
lish and Irish and Islew Zealand troops stormed the ridge 
and captured thousands of prisoners, the enemy yesterday- 
fell in great numbers, and his dead lie thick, and though he: 
came on wave after wave after all his day's agony and' 
struggle, he has not gained a yard of the crest, but is; 
beaten back to the reverse side of the slope. 

I have already told how, south of Armentieres, between* 
Neuve Chapelle and Fleurbaix, the centre of our line was. 
pressed back by hammer blows against the Portuguese, but. 
how the Lancashire men of the 55th Division held firm on 
the right wing by Givenchy by attacks and counter-attacks 
in which that patch of ruined earth changed hands several 
times. Yesterday and to-day the enemy has renewed his 
attacks there without success, and though those Lancashire 
lads have been hard pressed, they have never given up their 
position, and have killed uncountable numbers of German 
storm troops. They say that they have wiped out wave 
after wave and company after company, but always more 
men come, as though with inexhaustible reserves. The; 
enemy, repulsed here, tried yesterday to drive further north:, 


where he had gained ground from the 50th Division, and to 
cross the Lys Canal north and south of Estaires. In parts 
it was shallow enough for his troops to wade, and they tried 
to do this, but machine-gun fire of Scottish troops caught 
these men in the ditch and heaped it with their bodies. 
In the passage of the Lys he was more successful, striking 
south of Estaires towards Lestrem, and while pressing 
forward higher up by Armentieres. 

Yesterday afternoon the situation was anxious for our 
men up there. Some Northumberland Fusiliers and Royal 
Scots, after desperate fighting against overwhelming odds, 
were forced to withdraw from Houplines owing to the 
enemy's capture of Ploegsteert — poor old Plug Street 
Wood, famous as our training school of war — and at the 
same time the enemy's pressure was intense south of 
Armentieres, and he crossed the Lys below Erquinghem. 

The Northumberland Fusiliers and their comrades of the 
34th Division, grievously few compared with the hostile 
hordes about them, and almost, though never quite, out of 
touch with the troops on the right and the left, took up the 
line from the junction of the Armentieres railway with La 
Bizet, while at the same time some of them were holding 
round Nieppe, very isolated, because the enemy at that time 
had penetrated into the village of Steenwerck behind them. 

The forces holding Armentieres drew back northwards. 
This left a dangerous gap on the left of the Northumber- 
land Fusiliers and Royal Scots, and there was another gap 
on their right between them and men of the 20th Middle- 
sex Regiment, who were holding the outer defence of 

In order to fill these gaps and support our thin line, 
mixed troops made up of any units that could be gathered 
together from the 29th, 25th, and 50th Divisions, among 
them Royal Fusiliers and South Wales Borderers, ad- 
vanced to reinforce and beat back the enemy opposite Croix 
du Bac and a place called the White Dog, or Chien Blanc, 
and Les Haies, below Steenwerck, At seven o'clock last 


evening the enemy renewed his attacks all along this line, 
and after desperate fighting succeeded in forcing our men 
back a little north-east of Lestrem and a few hundred 
yards back between Steenwerck and Armentieres. But 
the gaps were filled up by gallant men, among whom were 
a Trench-Mortar Company, who made a fine counter-at- 
tack and beat back the enemy at a critical hour. On the 
previous day a similar act was done by 350 men of the 
Cyclist Corps, who reinforced the centre of the Portu- 
guese line and checked the enemy when his drive was a 
grave menace. 

In the afternoon the battle spread northwards into Flan- 
ders, the enemy opening a more intense bombardment and 
attacking in heavy forces almost as far as Gheluvelt (east 
of Ypres). There was fierce fighting round the White 
Chateau at Hollebeke, and the enemy worked from Holle- 
beke and up from Warneton and "Plug Street" in his rush 
for Wytschaete and the Messines Ridge, which were his 
chief objectives. It was then that some of our Scottish 
and South African troops made a great charge, hurling the 
enemy out of Wytschaete village, while other English bat- 
talions stormed the whole crest of the ridge and cleared it 
from end to end, though possibly the enemy still remains 
in the village of Messines on the other side of the slope. 

One thing in this new phase of the war is very cruel, and 
makes one's heart ache, however steeled to war's inevitable 
brutalities. It is the way in which poor people, non-com- 
batants, have been stricken by the enemy's ruthless methods. 
It is not to be helped that as the German tide ebbs over 
new ground the menace and the horror of this advance 
should travel ahead and cause the evacuation of old people, 
women, young girls, and children from villages where for 
nearly four years of war they have lived within sound of 
the guns, but unhurt. It is, however, brutal of the enemy 
to fling hundreds of gas shells without warning into a town 
like Bethune, crowded, as he knows, with civilians, as last 
June he did into Armentieres, and to scatter a harassing 


fire of shrapnel and high-velocity shells into little hamlets 
remote from his fighting-lines. From Bethune there are 
many women and children in our hospitals suffering from 
gas poisoning, and to-day and yesterday I have been into 
villages where shells have fallen before the people there 
had any chance of escape. Through one village yesterday 
passed a man carrying a baby with its arm blown off, and 
many old men and women have been wounded. All these 
people are very brave, astoundingly gallant. I have only 
seen a few women weeping to-day, though there was great 
cause for tears. 

April 12 
The enemy is playing the great game, in which he is fling- 
ing all he has into the hazard of war. He has, of course, 
a stupendous number of men, and while holding his lines 
across the Somme, after his drive down from St.-Ouentin, 
and playing a defensive part against the French on our 
right, he has moved up to the north, with secrecy and 
rapidity, large concentrations of troops and guns for new 
and tremendous blows against us. This is continuing his 
now determined policy to hurl his strongest weight against 
the British armies in an attempt to crush us before either 
France or America is able to draw off his divisions by 
counter-offensives. So now our troops in the North are 
faced by enormous forces. Nearly thirty German divi- 
sions are against them from Wytschaete to La Bassee Canal, 
and with those troops, innumerable machine-guns, trench- 
mortars, and massed batteries of field-guns, very quick to 
get forward in support of their infantry. 

It is right and just towards our people to say quite simply, 
and without rhodomontade or false heroics, that this north- 
ern offensive is as menacing as that which began south- 
wards on March 21, and that our gallant men among those 
little red-brick villages in French Flanders and in the flat 
fields between Bailleul and Bethune, are greatly outnum- 
bered, and can only hold back the enemy by fighting with 


supreme courage. They have done wonderful things, as 
I shall tell. Small bodies of them, battalions of divisions 
heavily engaged over a wide front, with the enemy trying 
to pierce through at many places with sharp spear-heads 
of storm troops plentifully armed with machine-guns, have 
held on to outposts, sometimes isolated, sometimes thinly 
in touch with other bodies of men, and have stayed there 
fighting under intense fire, but all the time inflicting bloody 
losses on the attacking forces and forbidding them to pass. 

So was it when the King's Liverpools, King's Own, and 
other Lancashire troops of the 55th Division defended the 
village line between Givenchy and Festubert after the Ger- 
mans had broken through the Portuguese in the centre. 
Their left flank was exposed, but they not only kept their 
line intact, but defended each one of its saps and outposts. 

It was Liverpool men who held out in the Death or 
Glory sap, and in another, further north, where they re- 
pulsed all attacks, and, seeing a periscope suddenly appear 
out of the earth in front of them, made a rush round it and 
killed an Austrian officer observing for Austrian guns. 

In reporting this episode they sent the following message : 

"Enemy attempted to use binocular periscope opposite 
our sap. Party went out and killed an Austrian officer and 
two men, and the periscope has been handed over to the 
group, to whom it will be very useful." 

I saw a number of men to-day belonging to these Liver- 
pool battalions, to the Durham Light Infantry, the Royal 
Scots, the Royal Scottish Fusiliers, and other units engaged 
in these battles, and they described the fighting which hap- 
pened after the Germans captured Neuve Chapelle. Parties 
of the enemy broke into houses in Laventie and fixed their 
machine-guns in the rooms, firing through windows down 
the streets and flinging out bombs upon our men, who tried 
to rout them out. 

One party of the Durhams of the 50th Division was hold- 
ing an isolated position on the Lys in front of Estaires, and 


in the dusk a German officer with some men stood up on the 
canal bank and shouted to them, "Are you English?" 

"We are/' cried a young sentry of the Durhams. 

"Are you wounded?" asked the German officer in good 

"Not all of us," said the Durham boy. 

"Surrender," shouted the German officer, but this time 
he was answered with rifle shot. 

Forty men came out of houses along the river-side, and 
a sergeant of the Durhams thought they were Portuguese, 
and said, "Come on down and join them." 

He went too far and was taken prisoner, but our men 
poured rifle-fire into the Germans, who now came swarm- 
ing up. 

"We killed a good few of them," said one of the Dur- 
hams, "but there were always more to come, and our little 
party had to fall back a bit to escape being captured." 

One party of Royal Scots, Scottish Fusiliers, and Gor- 
dons of the 51st Division sent up with two machine-guns 
to strengthen the line in front of Estaires and Laventie 
dons of the 51st Division sent up with two machine-guns 
in great numbers, and at the same time were bombed by 
German aeroplanes, which flew low over their heads with a 
great roar of engines and rush of air. 

The machine-gunners of the Liverpools are wonderful 
fellows, and on the first day by Givenchy, when their guns 
were knocked out and buried by shell-fire, they dug them 
up again and served them again, and both officers and men 
belonging to the machine-gun companies fought with re- 
volvers and bombs, while guns were kept going by their 

A sergeant of the 3rd Division served a field-gun until 
the enemy was close on him, and fired 200 rounds between 
600 and 200 yards into waves of Germans. The trail of 
his gun was broken by shell-burst, and the breech-block was 
so injured that between each round he had to prize it open 


with a pickaxe. At last, when the enemy was about to 
rush him. he destroyed his gun and escaped. 

I described yesterday how I saw over 700 prisoners who 
had been taken by these Lancashire troops. They were 
trapped with great skill by officers and men familiar with 
every twist and turn in the ground near Givenchy. When 
the enemy broke in, the Liverpools worked round them 
and cut them off, not once but several times. In one trip 
of this kind they rounded up 300 Germans, and 50 of them 
surrendered to one of our brigade majors and his orderly, 
the order being given by a German officer who had been 
taken first. A certain keep near Festubert was penetrated 
by the enemy yesterday with two companies, but the King's 
Liverpools made a counter-attack in the evening, and de- 
stroyed them almost to a man. A division flank of their 
troops was exposed by the German thrust through Neuve 
Chapelle, a defensive flank was formed by tunnellers and 
small parties of Portuguese under our officers and some 
Seaforths, and they have held on since with most resolute 

Other men came up to strengthen the line sent up in old 
London omnibuses and lorries. Meanwhile the Scots of 
the 51st Division "still sticking it," as the Germans said in 
their balloon message on the Somme battlefields, were 
fighting again in their same grim old way along the River 
Lawe between Locon and Lestrem. They had come up 
north after their terrific and exhausting adventures from 
Hermies across the old battlefields. There was no rest for 
them, and they took up their line and held it against fright- 
ful attacks. At dawn yesterday morning the strong post 
of Vielle Chapelle held by Gordons was fiercely assaulted, 
and they fought on hour after hour, killing the enemy every 
time his storm troops made a rush. Scots also defended 
the main road between Locon and Lestrem, upon which 
the enemy has poured his fire, but where the Highlanders 
would not let him pass, and where waves of Germans 
have fallen under rifle, machine-gun, and field-gun fire. 


These are acts of heroism which prove once again the 
quality of our men, their stubborn courage in defence, their 
hatred of giving ground. The enemy has put already well 
over ioo divisions into the battle-line since March 21, and 
about ninety of these have been against our troops. In this 
new battle between Wytschaete and La Bassee Canal nearly 
thirty divisions are engaged, and of those six divisions 
were in the narrow front north of Lys, driving forward 
through Nieppe to Steenwerck. There was another group 
of divisions thrusting through south of Armentieres, which 
was caught in the pincers, and a new German division was 
suddenly flung in south-west and drove through Estaires 
towards Merville. 

Last night they drove in a wedge between Lestrem and 
Merville and gained the position of Calonne-sur-la-Lys, 
east of St.-Venant, to which they are trying to force their 
way to-day with great intensity of gun-fire and big con- 
centration of machine-gunners and riflemen. 

A bloody battle is now being fought out on the ground 
below the forest of Nieppe. I was all over that ground, 
the day before yesterday, when the enemy was nearby at 
Lestrem, and it was from villages there among the woods 
and between Hazebrouck and St.-Venant that I saw the 
evacuation of many families while German shrapnel was 
overhead, and the tumult of the guns was louder and 
closer. To-day the tide of war has flowed over some of the 
places through which they trekked only a day ago, and 
many of their houses have already been shattered by Ger- 
man gun-fire. The scene to-day along the line of this 
hostile invasion was most tragic, because all the cruelty of 
war was surrounded by a beauty so intense that the con- 
trast was horrible. The sky was of summer blue, with 
sunshine glittering on the red-tiled roofs of cottages, and on 
their white-washed walls, and on their little window-panes. 
All the hedges were clothed with green and flaked by the 
snow-white thorn-blossoms. In a night, as it seemed, all the 
orchards of France have flowered, and cherry- and apple- 


trees are in the full splendour of bloom. The fields are 
powdered with close-growing daisies, and the shadows of 
the trees are long across the grass as the sun is setting. But 
over all this, and in the midst of all this is agony and blood; 
on the roads are fugitives, wounded soldiers, dead horses, 
guns, and transport. There are fires burning on the hill- 
sides. I saw their flames and their great rolling clouds 
of smoke rise this morning from places where, the day 
before, I had seen French peasants ploughing as though 
no war were near, and young girls scattering grain over 
fields harrowed by small brothers, and old women bending 
to the soil in small farmsteads where all their life w T as 
centred, until suddenly a frightful truth touched them, and 
they had to leave. Sometimes to-day I wished to God the 
sun would not shine like this, nor nature mock at one with 
its thrilling beauty of life. 

However, our men are full of confidence; if they were 
forced back they are glad to know that they made the 
enemy pay heavy prices, and that our line is still unbroken. 
They are full of faith that against all odds we shall hold 
our own in the last battle of all. The pageant of the roads 
is the same, the young gunners on their horses and mules 
riding by like knights in their steel caps, the infantry 
marching with a whistling tune on their lips, the transport 
crawling by with dogs in the wagons, and great bunches of 
daffodils tied to some of the men's saddles, and old women 
and children packed among our men in the dim recesses of 
motor-lorries. Officers and men stand about in villages, 
under scattered fire, and every man in the Army is doing 
whatever task falls to him without an outward sign of 
strain, though in the heart of every man is the thought that 
these days may decide the fate of the world and all our 
life now and to come. 

April 14 
The Commander-in-Chief's Order of the Day should reveal 
to our people and to the world what is happening out here 


in France — the enemy's objects to seize the Channel Ports, 
and destroy the British Army, and the frightful forces he 
has brought against us to achieve that plan, and the call 
that has come to our troops to hold every position to the 
last man. "Many amongst us now are tired. . . . With 
our backs to the wall each one of us must fight to the end." 

Yes, our men are tired — so tired, after a week's fighting 
and after these last days and nights, that they can hardly 
stagger up to resist another attack, yet they do so because 
their spirit wakes again above their bodily fatigue; so tired 
that they go on fighting like sleep-walkers, and in any respite 
lie in ditches and under hedges and in open fields under 
fire in deep slumber until the shouts of their sergeants stir 
them again. Some of these men have been fighting since 
March 21, with only a few days' rest. 

You know what the Scottish battalions of the 51st Divi- 
sion have done since that day, fighting all the way back from 
the St.-Quentin front before holding back the German 
hordes from the way to Bethune. 

The 9th Division have done as much and as long, and 
after all their desperate fighting down from Gonnelieu and 
Gauche Wood to Montauban and Mametz this new battle 
burst upon them, and they flung the enemy off the Messines 
Ridge and barred his way with their bodies. 

English battalions of the 55th, 50th, 34th, and 25th Divi- 
sions, through all that first phase in the south, where they 
fought scores of rear-guard actions with the enemy on 
both flanks, not sleeping for days and nights, have shared 
in these northern battles, and have fought, as Sir Douglas 
Haig has asked them to fight, with their "backs to the wall." 
Often, in outposts and keeps, at bridge-heads and cross- 
roads, in bombarded villager and towns, they have fought 
back from house and street, in Laventie and Merville and 
Estaires, in Steenwerck and Nieppe and Merris and Bailleul 
and Bethune. Their losses have not been light in this 
heroic fighting. England and Scotland must steel their 
hearts to this sacrifice of their sons. The enemy still 


storms against them with fresh men, always fresh men, 
in overwhelming numbers. Little groups are left out of 
gallant companies, but these bands of brothers — Royal 
Fusiliers, Worcesters, Sherwoods, "Koylies," Royal Scots 
and Scottish Borderers, Liverpools and Yorkshires, and 
Durham Light Infantry — have no surrender in their souls, 
and if they yield it is to death. 

A dreadful scene of war closes on us, and draws nearer 
to places not long ago outside its zone — engulfing dear 
towns and villages in which our soldiers lived behind the 
lines familiar among the people. Merville, with its Flem- 
ish gables and old inns and houses and dainty shops, is now 
shelled to ruin, and its streets are littered with dead. Into 
stately Bailleul, with its bell-shaped tower and its great 
market square and solid old houses, built for merchant 
princes of the sixteenth century, the enemy is flinging 
enormous shells, and yesterday, when I went that way to 
villages around all the storm of battle was centred there, and 
there was a dreadful sweep of fire bearing down on Merris, 
close by, and down the road for miles came the people of 
Bailleul, streaming away from that city in which their 
homes were being smashed by high explosives. 

I have told how yesterday, in the sunlight of a golden 
day of spring, with all nature singing over the fields, I saw 
the fires of war burning and high columns of smoke. That 
night the scene of war became infernal up in Flanders. 
It was a clear, starlight night, and for miles the horizon 
was lit by the flame of burning farms and stores and am- 
munition dumps, and all this pale sky was filled with the 
wild glare of fires and by the flash of guns. German air- 
raiders came out dropping bombs. The sound of their 
engines was a droning song overhead, and our shrapnel 
winked and flashed about them. Flights of our aeroplanes 
went out over the positions, and night was noisy with their 
explosions as they dropped tons of bombs over the Ger- 
man troops. To people living in the villages of Flanders, 
from which one can see the whole sweep of the battle-line, 


that night was full of terror, and from their windows they 
watched the burning of places from which they had es- 
caped, and bonfires of their homes, and these refugees with 
sleeping children at their breasts wept. Yesterday the 
weather changed and there was no sunlight in the sky, but 
it was leaden grey with a north-east wind howling, and over 
all the fields dense white fog. I went to places where if 
there had been any clearness I could have seen every shell 
burst and the whole range of battle, but now I could see 
nothing of it. It was a drama of noise beating against one's 
ears and against one's heart, and a strange terrible thing 
to stand there, blind as it were, listening to the infernal 
tumult of gun-fire south of Bailleul, with knockings and 
sledge-hammer strokes loud and shocking above the inces- 
sant drum-fire of field artillery. German shells came 
howling over into fields and villages beyond Bailleul, burst- 
ing with gruff coughs, and there was an evil snarl of shrap- 
nel in the mist. 

It was the noise of one of the greatest battles in history, 
and I listened to it with faith and hope that the enemy 
would be held back this day by our heroic men out there in 
those wet fields. Men were coming to their aid. Our 
guns were coming up, more gunners and more guns for this 
northern battle. They did not waste any time though they 
had travelled hard and were dog-weary. They were get- 
ting into position — in places where I never expected to see 
guns at work — dumping down their shells, making their 
wagon-lines, unlimbering. There was no fluster. Officers 
and men went about their work quietly with a word or two. 
They were white with dust, which filled the lines about their 
eyes, but officers gave their commands cheerily, and the men 
carried on gamely. 

I saw one battery come into action and fire its first shots. 
They startled some old women tramping by with bundles on 
their backs getting away from these villages, once so snug 
under red-tiled roofs, now very sinister, in spite of blos- 
soms in their orchards and on their hedges. Their doors 


were open, and there was no one at home. Odd shells had 
pierced some of their rafters, and groups of our men sat 
close under their walls, hunched up with their heads droop- 
ing, and in ditches by roadsides, or stood with their backs 
to the wall of some old Flemish church, in that way which 
always tells one that the place is in shell-range and a likely 
target for German guns. 

Little bodies of troops marched up towards the battle- 
line, led forward by some young officer with grave eyes. 
They were streaked with dust and carried heavy packs 
with their rifles slung. And all about were men of those 
battalions who have been fighting through all this battle, 
dirty and tattered, men with the thin gaunt look of soldiers 
who have been long under fire in the battle-line, but still 
hard, with tightened lips and steel in their eyes. Some of 
them slept awhile, stretched out in fields, fathoms deep in 
sleep. Some of them drowsed as they marched. In one of 
their headquarters where I went a staff officer slept on his 
chair in a small farmhouse room, filled with other officers 
discussing the plans of battle. In another headquarters, 
on the Scherpenberg, near the battle-line, so near that a 
shell came through the roof of the hut when they were 
taking a meal, a staff officer was so tired after four days 
and nights of battle, that he could not remember one day 
from another, though when a message came over the wire to 
say that the enemy was attacking again, he became alert at 
once, and wakefulness came into his eyes as he went out 
to give new orders. 

I go into these Flemish cottages and barns and our camp 
huts, from which these battles are being directed, and where 
there is always a chance of intrusion by high explosives, 
and find these officers of ours as chatty, smiling, and calm 
as they have always been in the gravest hours. Yet it is 
courage and not light-heartedness that keeps them like this, 
and they stare very frankly at the truth of things and see 
it nakedly. The truth of things is without camouflage on 
every road and in every field : the tragedy, cruelty, splen- 


dour, and hope of this challenge of fate that has come to 
our men. 

The worst tragedy, apart from the ordeal of our fighting 
men, is the plight of people who lived in places now caught 
in the flame of war. Out of Bailleul and Merville and 
Estaires; out of scores of hamlets and farmsteads which all 
of us out here knew in happier days they are coming far 
back in farm-carts and gigs and donkey-carts, on bicycles 
and afoot, with wheelbarrows and perambulators, on Brit- 
ish gun-wagons and in British lorries. They are enor- 
mously brave these old, old women and these young girls 
and children. They sit aloft on the big hay-carts piled 
high with furniture, while their farm-horses stumble on 
down long roads, and old women nod or sleep like babies 
on coloured mattresses, and girls call out "Good luck!" to 
our soldiers. They drive their cattle before them, and 
yesterday I saw great herds of cows coming back from 
the country round Bailleul. Small boys with young mothers 
tramp sturdily on with one hand clasping their mother's 
skirt and gripping a bundle of clothes, young heroes of 
France with the courage of their race. To the last mo- 
ment some of these people stay in their villages under fire, 
standing about among our steel-hatted men with no cover- 
ing to their braided hair, until at last they know they must 
go or die. So now they are moving away from the battle 
zone, cared for as far as possible by the French and British 

These men of ours have exceeded all their previous 
records of valour, though God knows they have filled three 
years and more with acts of courage. I should want 
hundreds of columns of this paper to tell in full all they 
have done during these last days. I can only tell a few 
things baldly, like a catalogue of dull facts, though in them 
is the soul of our race and the great supreme sacrifice of 
the human heart. When the centre was broken at Laventie 
by a colossal thrust against the Portuguese, the North- 
umberland Fusiliers of the 50th Division, East Yorks, and 


Durham Light Infantry were sent up to hold the line of 
the Lys and to defend Estaires. It was too late to form a 
strong defensive line, but these men fought against attack 
after attack by unceasing waves of storm troops. 

The Durham Light Infantry of the 50th Division held 
crossings of the Lys Canal up to Sailly, on a front of 10,500 
yards, until the enemy struck into Bac St.-Maur. There 
was a race for the river, and the Durhams got there first, 
facing the enemy on the other side, and raking them with 
rifle-fire. A party of Durhams held the salient over the 
river at Lestrem for a long time, till it was pounded to 
mush by German trench-mortars. The bank of the Lys 
could only be weakly held, and there were terrible fights 
about the bridgeheads, but the enemy crossed between 
them. On the morning of April 10 Estaires was filled 
with shell-fire, and the enemy rushed the swing-bridge and 
swarmed into the western part of the town, but the Dur- 
hams and Northumberland Fusiliers charged down the 
streets and cleared them of the enemy, making a No Man's 
Land fifty yards beyond the bridgehead, which they cov- 
ered with their machine-guns. Their line was turned by 
the enemy breaking through higher up, close to Armen- 
tieres, and they had to withdraw. 

A message reached a party of East Yorks saying "the 
enemy is behind us, we are going to fall back." But they 
refused to retire even then, and fought on until they were 
surrounded and overpowered. 

The Durhams and their comrades dug a line in front of 
Merville, and withdrew there under heavy fire, firing their 
own rifles as they went back step by step, with their faces 
to the enemy. One machine-gunner of ours kept his 
weapon in action until all his comrades had got away, and 
the Germans were within seventy yards of him. Then he 
broke his gun and escaped. These men of ours in this 
position had against them two and a half German divisions. 

Near Lestrem some of the Durhams had trouble in blow- 
ing up a bridge owing to the enemy's fire, and men of the 


trench-mortar section counter-attacked in order to gain 
time while two companies of the Durhams stayed on the 
other side of the river for this purpose. When the bridge 
was blown up the survivors on the other side swam across, 
with machine-gun bullets whipping the water about them, 
and rejoined their comrades. 

When the enemy attacked Merville in great strength it 
was necessary again to blow up bridges, and on one of them 
ten Germans went up in the explosion after a small party 
of them had crossed, and died fighting with the engineers 
in charge of this work. One bridge was left undestroyed, 
and was seen by a brigade major, a man with cool cour- 
age. He searched about for dynamite in a store he hap- 
pened to know, and put it in position. But he was attacked 
by German bombers, and had to go more quickly than he is 
accustomed to move, being a man of unflurried manner. 

There was fierce street fighting in Merville during the 
darkness, and the Durhams and other men fell back fighting. 
Yesterday the enemy attacked again from Merville, and 
they were shot down like rabbits by a fierce rifle-fire, which 
even overmastered their machine-guns. Here yesterday 
the enemy was slaughtered and all his attacks were re- 
pulsed with bloody losses. 

In all the fighting round the Lys the 40th Division had a 
hard tragic time, and the men were called upon for the 
greatest valour, which they gave to the death. Among 
those battalions were the SufTolks, Yorks, Welsh Regiment, 
Royal Scots Fusiliers, Middlesex, and Highland Light In- 
fantry. They held Fleurbaix and Bois Grenier on the left 
of the Portuguese, and when the Germans broke through 
our Allies the division found its right flank turned. The 
120th Brigade of this division formed a defensive flank 
and held the bridgeheads to cover the retreat of the 49th 
Brigade to the south of Bac St.-Maur, fighting rear-guard 
actions against swarms of the enemy. Parties of the 12th 
SufTolks, surrounded on three sides, held out at Contees 
Farm till evening, and then fell back to the north bank of 


the Lys. The 13th Yorks on the left held a defensive flank 
along "Shaftesbury Avenue" to Bois Grenier till eleven 
o'clock that night. For the next two days there was ter- 
rible fighting, and only 1200 men remained out of two 
brigades. The 34th Division was unable to keep in touch 
with them, and after holding the Steenwerck switch line 
the remnants of the 40th Division brigades fell back to 
Le Mortier. The troops were exhausted, but even then the 
Highland Light Infantry, Royal Scottish Fusiliers, and 
Middlesex Regiment counter-attacked and drove back the 
enemy 630 yards, capturing machine-guns and prisoners. 
Under increasing pressure they were forced to cross the 
Lys, blowing up the bridges in the very nick of time to 
prevent the enemy cutting them off, and so late that several 
officers had to swim across to escape. The 12th Suffolks 
and 13th Yorks were still holding stubbornly on the left, 
and the Division fought until almost the last gasp, when 
on April 13 the survivors were relieved by the Australians. 

Meanwhile during this fighting in the Merville sector 
there were great battles further north, from Wytschaete 
Ridge down to Neuve Eglise and Merris, near Bailleul, 
which are still going on. 

I have already described how the 9th Division of Scots 
swept the enemy back from Messines Ridge. I saw some 
of their officers yesterday while the fighting was still in 
progress, and they say that the charge of the South Africans 
was one of the finest things ever done, because they were 
still unrested from the Battle of the Somme. But they 
attacked with tremendous spirit and flung the enemy back. 
Unfortunately more masses came against them afterwards, 
and though we still hold Wytschaete village we now swing 
back from Messines and the southern end of the ridge. 

They were Cheshires of the 25th Division who resisted 
the weight of the German attacks at Neuve Eglise when the 
enemy brought up several new divisions against these men, 
who fought against fearful odds, and afterwards Worces- 
ter and Sherwoods and others made a wonderful counter- 


attack which drove the enemy out of that place, which was a 
great menace to all our positions. 

Thirteen to fourteen divisions were put in by the enemy 
between Wytschaete and Bailleul, and for some time it was 
the supreme courage of English county regiments that kept 
back these hordes, fighting day after day. Sappers put up 
great fights in holding gaps in the line through which the 
enemy came with his machine-guns, trying to widen them 
for the infantry to follow, as is his method. Several 
times the South Wales Borderers and their comrades had 
their flanks exposed by Neuf Berquin and elsewhere, and 
had to form defensive flanks with small parties, who fought 
to a finish. 

Yesterday the enemy, in intense fighting, made his way 
into Merris Church, below Bailleul, but was driven back 
with most severe losses. It was a day of fierce battling 
on this part of the front and southwards beyond Merville, 
but along the whole front the enemy was checked. 


The Flanders Front 

April 15 
During the past three days the enemy's main effort in 
Flanders has been to capture Bailleul and its railways, and 
Old Kemmel Hill, from which one can look over to 
Wytschaete Ridge. For this purpose the enemy has thrown 
in all the weight he could gather for these attacks north of 
Merville, hurrying up fresh divisions all through the fight- 
ing to replace shattered and exhausted troops, and con- 
centrating a large amount of heavy and field artillery. 

Up to last night our troops in this area between Merris 
and Wytschaete had engaged some fifteen divisions, only 
one of which had been previously in action in the Somme 
battlefields, with battalions of special storm troops, and 



part of an Alpine corps who had orders to take Bailleul at 
all costs. They have not taken Bailleul nor the railway 
south of it, and our outnumbered men, some of whom had 
been fighting for many days and nights without sleep, and 


always under fire, have repulsed the enemy again and 
again, and inflicted frightful losses on him. 

The enemy's objective was Kemmel on the first day of 
this fighting, that is April 10, and his officers are amazed 
at the resistance made by British soldiers so weak in num- 
bers against their tremendous forces. Their dead lie piled 
up below the railway embankment near Bailleul, living 
waves of Germans being mown down by our machine- 


gunners, who had great targets for their shooting, and al- 
though once yesterday our flank was momentarily threat- 
ened south of this city, now filled with the fire of monstrous 
shells, the line was fully re-established last night by counter- 
attacks, and thirty Germans were made prisoners, with 

In order to surround Bailleul two heavy attacks were 
made on the west towards Meteren, and on the east at 
Neuve Eglise. Near Meteren the enemy failed utterly, and 
suffered immense losses. There has been fierce fighting 
round a place called the Steam Mill, near Meteren, the 
enemy having been ordered to capture the Meteren 
road and the high ground beyond, at whatever sacri- 
fice. They made the sacrifice, but did not get the ground. 
Last night our troops, who had held Neuve Eglise through 
three days and nights of intense strife, withdrew, unknown 
to the enemy, to a line a slight way back from the village 
in order to avoid staying a target for unceasing shell-fire. 

It is now enemy soldiers who this morning are in the 
ruins, under great bombardment. This battle at Neuve 
Eglise has been filled with grim episodes, for the village 
has changed hands several times, and each side has fought 
most fiercely and with any kind of weapon, small bodies of 
men attacking and counter-attacking among broken walls 
and bits of houses, and under the stump of the church 
tower, at dawn and in darkness, with rifles and bayonets 
and bombs. The attack on this place was really begun 
further back, when the enemy struck up through Plug 
Street on April 10, and drove forward every day since 
towards this goal of Neuve Eglise. 

All the time he was faced and resisted by the troops 
from Wiltshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire, 
while other Lancashire troops, along with the Northumber- 
land and Worcestershire men and others, were holding up 
the line of the Lys and fighting rear-guard actions round 
Croix-du-Bac, as I have told before. 

A body of Wiltshire, Cheshire, and Staffordshire men of 


the 25th Division held the east of Plug Street Wood when 
the attack burst upon them, and kept their lines intact 
for two days and nights, though the enemy had pierced 
behind them, and west of the wood against other troops 
fighting back under overwhelming pressure towards Neuve 
Eglise. The situation became serious when the enemy 
broke into Plug Street village, and made a nest of machine- 
guns there which could not be routed out by fierce Lan- 
cashire counter-attacks. Our units in this fighting belonged 
mainly to the 17th, 34th, 31st, and 25th Divisions, with the 
5th and 33rd Divisions, who came up to their relief. 

Some of our own machine-gunners on the west of the 
wood acted as infantry and charged the enemy outposts, 
and when the Germans thrust forward again to the hamlet 
called Romorin and a huddle of houses called Les-Trois- 
Pipes, pioneers of South Wales Borderers not trained for 
fighting attacked them most gallantly. But the enemy 
poured up to this place, and there was severe fighting there 
for hours. 

Meanwhile, on the night of the nth, men of the 25th 
Division holding Plug Street Wood were ordered to 
abandon this dangerous position, in which they were nearly 
surrounded, and fall back to a line in front of Neuve 
Eglise and La Nieppe. They did this in face of the enemy, 
and the last men in the wood were two subalterns who were 
entirely surrounded by Germans. They gathered some 
bombs and made their way down an old trench in the dark- 
ness — there was a glare of fire through Plug Street Wood, 
where in the old days I used to visit friends on summer 
days when snipers' bullets came whisking off the leaves — 
and by the light of this they made their way at last through 
the enemy lines and so escaped. Some other officers were 
not so lucky. On the way back to the line outside Neuve 
Eglise a colonel with a machine-gun section led his men 
against a body of the enemy in possession of a ruin called 
La Grande Munque, and killed a number of them, before 


getting back wounded with the little party of his surviving 

Later the enemy broke in the neighbourhood of an old 
estaminet called Kort Pyp (the "Short Pipe"), and round 
here a body of King's Royal Rifles of the 25th Division 
fought almost to the last man in a desperate action. An- 
other party of the same regiment suffered heavily in an 
heroic action to check the enemy south of Neuve Eglise, 
towards which they were pressing now in great strength. 
On the night before last our line fell back from near La 
Creche and swung round in a loop south of Neuve Eglise 
towards Ravelsberg Farm. It was then that Neuve Eglise 
itself became a place of hellish battle. 

The enemy broke through into its ruined streets, and 
small parties of the Wiltshires, Worcesters, "Koylies," and 
others sprang on them or were killed, and fought des- 
perately in backyards and over broken walls and in shell- 
pierced houses wherever they could find Germans or hear 
the tattoo of machine-guns. Several times the enemy was 
cleared out of most of the town, and our men held the 
hollow square containing most of the streets and defended 
it as a kind of fortress, though with dwindling numbers 
under a heavy fire of shells and trench-mortars and 
machine-guns. The enemy was savage in his attacks against 
these men, and from behind the German commanding of- 
ficers sent up fresh troops with stern orders to have done 
with the business and destroy our men, whom they vastly 
outnumbered. But they could not take Neuve Eglise by 
direct assault, and last night our troops, Wiltshires and 
Cheshires, of the 25th, made a counter-attack at Crucifix 
Corner, won ground, and brought back five machine-guns, 
and left there many German dead. It was an astounding 
feat of grim courage. 

But Neuve Eglise was given up by us for the reasons I 
have stated. The enemy, unable to get it by infantry 
assault, shelled it fiercely by the fire of many guns and made 
it a death-trap, as now it is for them. Without yielding 


to a direct assault, our men obeyed orders and stumbled out 
of the cursed place, silently and unknown to their enemy, 
and took up a line further back. 

Southwards the situation is much the same as when I 
last wrote. The enemy has not made any progress of im- 
portance beyond Merville and along the Lys Canal above 
St. Venant, where our men have been holding the line 
against repeated attacks. On Sunday they attacked four 
times, but each time were swept by our machine-gun fire. 
For a while they got into the hamlet called Cornet-Malo, 
and fixed machine-guns in its cottages, but Argylls and 
Royal Scots of the 6ist Division drove them out by rifle- 
fire and bombing. They came on again last night and made 
another breach in the village, but were again routed out, 
while another struggle went on about some brickfields 
nearby against our Warwicks of the 6ist Division. 

For the moment, therefore, the enemy is checked in his 
ambitious plans, and the heroism of our soldiers has foiled 
his main efforts, broken, for the time being at least, his 
drive towards the coast, and shattered many of his proud 
divisions, many times more in number than our forces in 
this northern battle zone. Fortunately many of our most 
tired men have been relieved. Fresher troops of the 19th, 
49th, 59th, and 33rd are facing the enemy, and the front 
line is now strongly supported. So one may breathe with 
relief after the anxiety of three days ago, when things were 
at their worst. 

From prisoners and other sources the proud plans, enor- 
mous hopes, and detailed preparations for this mighty 
assault on us with the vast strength of the German army are 
becoming known to us. Before the Battle of Armentieres 
the greatest secrecy was kept. No letters were allowed to 
be sent and no leave given to any German officer or man. 
No information of any kind was given to officers until they 
reached the line a few hours before the battle began, after 
forced marches from the detraining point. 

The order then came: "The Sixth German army on 


April 9 is breaking through the English position and will 
advance on Hazebrouck." 

It was stated that the second battalion of the 156th In- 
fantry Regiment would follow the 32nd Division, and 
march on Fleurbaix. Later an order came, saying the divi- 
sion was held up at Fleurbaix, and the 156th Infantry 
Regiment would swing to the left and go to Bac-St.-Maur. 

It was when they were crossing the Lys that their 
casualties were heaviest, and the infantry were cut up by 
our artillery fire. The enemy brought up large numbers 
of field-guns, many of which were not allowed to register 
before the battle. Many shells fell short and killed Ger- 
man infantrymen. They were especially strong in trench- 
mortars, brought up in baskets, and it is said that only one 
mortar in each group was allowed to register before action. 
Their greatest trouble was in getting transport forward 
over the sticky mud in the old No Man's Land, and no doubt 
thousands of men are now working furiously to make roads 
and lay tramlines. 

The German officers seem to have been inspired with 
fanatical faith in victory, with which they tried to animate 
their men. Major-General Hofer, commanding a brigade 
of the Ersatz Reserve, who is a one-armed man, led over 
the first wave, brandishing his stick before the astonished 
soldiers, who had never seen one of their high officers going 
over the top. On the night before the attack their losses 
were heavy under the concentrated fire of our guns on their 
assembly places, and the first waves had to climb over 
wreckage and dead bodies on their way of advance. Their 
first exaltation must have flickered out, I think, for since 
the beginning of the attack the German losses have been 
ghastly, and their gains have not been as great as their 

April 16 
It seemed inevitable, after our loss of Neuve Eglise, that 
the enemy should make a quick and strong effort to capture 


Bailleul, and this he did last night by putting into the battle 
three divisions of fresh assaulting troops not previously 
used in this fighting, and encircling that city by fierce at- 
tacks on the ground south-east and east, including the ridge 
of Le Ravelsberg and Mont de Lille. 

His troops, as I mentioned in my message yesterday de- 
scribing the first attacks on Bailleul, including his Alpine 
corps of Jaegers and possibly a Bavarian division, and the 
117th Division. Among our men defending the city against 
these heavy forces were Staffords and Notts and Derbies. 
Yesterday when I was in the country round Bailleul the 
enemy's guns were working up for this new attack, and there 
was a continual bombardment spreading up to Wytschaete 
Ridge. Heavy shells were being flung into Bailleul itself, 
and the smoke of fires was rising like mist from the small 
towns and villages like Meteren and Morbecque down to 

Our guns were also pounding the enemy's positions, and 
through that bombardment concentrations of German in- 
fantry, guns, transport and cavalry were moving up the 
roads in and north of Merville. Intense shell-fire was 
ranged upon them, while our air squadrons went out in the 
evening and at night and dropped large quantities of high 
explosives upon this traffic of men and beasts, so that they 
must have suffered many casualties. 

In their attacks round Ravelsberg Spur, where all 
through the old Flanders fighting we had camps and hut- 
ments known by heart among our English and New Zea- 
land troops, and divisional headquarters during active 
operations, the enemy must have lost heavily again. For 
our men were stubborn in defence, and their machine-gun 
fire must have been of a deadly nature owing to their posi- 
tions along railway and on ridge. But the enemy advanced 
upon them in waves striking up on both sides of Bailleul, 
so that after strong resistance our line was withdrawn be- 
yond the town. For tactical reasons, apart from the im- 
portance of the railway line, it is better for our troops to 


be out of Bailleul, for it threatened to become like Ypres 
in the old bad days, when all our traffic and transport had 
to pass between buildings falling beneath atrocious shell- 
fire, through squares which were targets for German guns, 
and out by cross-roads which were death-traps. Neverthe- 
less it is with deep regret that one thinks of poor old Bailleul 
in German hands after all these years of association with 
our armies. There is not a man with any long service 
out here who has not passed through Bailleul scores of 
times on the way to Armentieres or Kemmel, looking up at 
its old bell-shape tower in the great square surrounded by 
sixteenth-century houses with Flemish roofs and high dor- 
mer windows and Renaissance fronts. It was a grim old 
town, with high walls between narrow streets and grey 
brick-work, which looked cold in this northern weather, but 
there were friendly people there, who knew and welcomed 
our men, and many houses were sanctuaries in which fight- 
ing men could forget war and enjoy for a little while the 
warmth and kindliness of life, with some musician among 
them sitting at the piano in a cosy room among a French 
family with whom they were billeted. Thousands of our 
officers who went forward to the lines about Plug Street, 
or Wytschaete, used to take dinner at the Hotel du Faucon ; 
an old place, not very comfortable or grand within, but 
where there was good food and good wine and good com- 
radeship. There was an officers' club round the corner of 
the Grande Place, served by comely Flemish lasses; and 
here in winter one saw groups of muddy fellows straight 
out of the bogs of Flemish battlefields, but merry and 
bright after a wash and brush up, and over the tables one 
heard them telling strange tales of war with a gust of 
laughter or remembrance of some moment of great peril 
in their eyes, or a passing salute of the spirit to some "pal" 
who had just "gone west"— strange, thrilling, tragic-comic 
tales of the way men lived in those old days of trench war- 
fare which some of us thought would last until the end. 
And in old Bailleul there were little tea-shops, where we 


could pass a pleasant hour on the way elsewhere, sitting in 
the courtyards in summer, where flowering plants grew up 
walls, and pleasant women waited among customers who 
became their friends. I remember on one day in one such 
place a group of officers gathered round a little girl, who was 
an invalid and could not walk, and whose delight it was to 
play tunes on the gramophone to these tall soldiers with 
mud on them, who were very gentle and chivalrous to this 
child with her big blue eyes and waxen face. Always in 
the Grande Place of Bailleul there were crowds of men. 
For three years and more I saw them there in all weathers, 
with snow on their steel hats or the glare of the sun, 
and on the days of battle up in Flanders there was a turbu- 
lent pageant passing through the square, a pageant of guns 
and wagons and mules and men, with pipes for Scottish 
troops and brass bands for English troops. The King 
came here one day, and all the square was lined by fight- 
ing men of the Naval Division, and New Zealanders, and 
Australians, and Scots, and on the steps of the town hall 
were groups of Army nurses. Just outside the city, by the 
asylum for poor old women, who had wit enough for ter- 
ror when shells fell near and the sky of night was aflame 
with the lights of war, we had an aerodrome belonging to 
the Royal Naval Air Service, where, in hangers and 
pavilions were as jolly a set of boys as heart of man could 
hope to meet about the world. I went among them many 
times and listened to their queer jargon of "air speech," 
which is a different language to us "earth men," and won- 
dered at the amazing courage of these children, who were 
the great knights-errant of the sky and great captains. The 
enemy used to hate their home here and came over in the 
darkness and at dawn to drop bombs on their sheds, and 
they told me how this sort of thing was devilish awkward 
when they were shaving or in their tubs. They always 
paid him back for such behaviour with terrible vengeance. 
Crowds of memories come back to me about Bailleul, and 
it is sad now that this dear old city is no more than a mem- 


ory to us, who knew its streets so well and its friendly 
people, whom a day or two ago I saw trekking away down 
the long roads of exile while their homes were burning be- 
hind them. 

The capture of this city belongs to the third great at- 
tack which has been delivered against us by the enemy 
since March 21. Always he has massed his strength op- 
posite our lines and struck with full weight against our 
troops. In the first phase, down from St.-Quentin and 
Cambrai salient, the French came to our help and relieved 
us by their good and gallant aid. But the Germans then 
edged away from the French to strike us again, this time 
at Arras, where they failed. Then the third time has now 
followed in this northern blow; and once again our men 
have had to sustain the abominable pressure of German di- 
visions, constantly relieved and supported by fresh divisions 
passing through them, while our troops fight on and on, 
killing the enemy in large numbers, but having to withdraw 
to new lines of defence under these enormous odds. Their 
heroism and their sacrifice are beyond words that may be 
uttered, except in the silence of one's heart. 

This morning the enemy developed his gain of Bailleul 
by pressing westward of the city, and at the same time de- 
livered separate and fierce attacks against Wytschaete vil- 
lage, which he appears to have captured after desperate 
fighting, as well as Spanbroekmolen. It is probable that the 
next German battle will be directed against the hills of 
Kemmel, Mont Noir, and Mont Rouge, which run east and 
west above Bailleul. 


The Panorama of Battle 

April 16 
The battle from Wytschaete to Meteren and the line west 
of Merville still goes on furiously, and the enemy is spend- 


ing his strength of divisions recently thrown into this 
fighting by repeated attacks, which during the past twenty- 
four hours have resulted in very great German losses. 
Yesterday morning the fortune of war seemed again in 
favour of the enemy by his capture of Wytschaete ridge 
down to Spanbroekmolen, and by his entry of Meteren, 
west of Bailleul. Our hard-pressed troops were forced to 
give ground at both those places after a resistance which 
cost the enemy many lives, but in the evening counter-at- 
tacks hurled the enemy back from Wytschaete village — 
that pile of brickdust above stumps of dead trees which 
were Wytschaete Wood, and in a separate battle west of 
Bailleul regained at least for a time part of Meteren. 

This morning renewed counter-attacks gave us back all 
Meteren, and the enemy garrison there was destroyed. 
(Sir Douglas Haig last night reported that the enemy had 
reoccupied Meteren and Wytschaete.) I watched the bat- 
tle last night and again this morning from the centre of 
an arc of fire which is like a loop flung round Wytschaete 
to Bailleul, and in a sharp curve round to Merris and the 
country about Merville, so that great gun-fire and the whole 
sweep of battle were close about one on three sides. 

It was an astounding panorama of open warfare such 
as I never dreamed of seeing on this Western Front, where 
for so long both sides were hemmed in by trenches. Every 
slope and village and windmill and town and road in this 
new line of battle has been familiar to me for more than 
three years, and now I could tell by a glance what places 
were being destroyed by the enemy's guns, and saw his 
barrage-fire was flung round certain hillsides, and what 
roads — those dusty, winding roads down which I have mo- 
tored hundreds of times — were smoking from his trail of 
high explosives. Bailleul was still blazing. In the early 
evening, after a wet, misty day which filled all this battle- 
field with whitish fog, one could only see that city under a 
cloud, but as the sky darkened and the wind blew some of 
the mist away enormous flames burned redly in the poor 


dead heart of Bailleul, and in their glare there were dark 
masses of walls and broken roofs outlined jaggedly by fire. 
To the left the village of Locre was aflame under a storm 
of high explosives, and the enemy's guns were putting 
heavy shells down the roads which lead out of that place. 
There were fires of burning farms and hamlets as far south- 
wards as Merville, behind one, as one stood looking out to 
Bailleul, and lesser fires of single cottages and haystacks, 
and the wind drifted all the smoke of them across the sky 
in long white ribbons. 

It was just before dusk that counter-attacks began north- 
wards from Wytschaete southwards for Meteren, and al- 
though before then there had been steady slogging of guns 
and howling of shells, at that time this volume of dreadful 
noise increased tremendously, and drumfire broke out in 
fury, so that the sky and earth trembled with it. It was 
like the beating of all the drums of the world in a muf- 
fled tattoo, above which and through which there were 
enormous clangouring hammer-strokes from British and 
German heavies. It was a wet, wild evening, with few 
pale gleams of sun through storm clouds and smoke of 
guns, and for miles all this panorama of battle was boil- 
ing and seething with bursting shells and curling wreaths 
of smoke from batteries in action. I was in the midst of 
wide concentric rings of field-guns and heavy-guns firing 
rapidly. When darkness came each battery was revealed 
by its flashes, and all fields around me were filled with red 
winkings and sharp stabs of flame. Almost till darkness 
came birds of ours were on the wing — birds with brave 
hearts in them, flying over these frightful fields. Our air- 
men were flying low and searching through the mists for 
movements of enemy troops in order to call to the guns to 
shell and scatter them. Lights went up from Meteren about 
7.30, and it was then that our men sent up these rockets to 
tell their whereabouts. Through the dusk and darkness 
there were many men moving. Groups of mud-coloured 
men who had been sleeping under hedges sprang up to 


shouts of sergeants, formed up in platoons, and marched 
towards the fires. One party, as they went, broke into 
song "Good-byee, good-byee," and jogged down the wind- 
ing lane close to the wheels of the gun-limbers where one 
could see the drivers' faces by the glow of cigarette-ends. 
It was not a healthy spot. Shells had come over hedges 
white with thorn-blossom, and into little orchards beyond, 
where cherry-blossom is thick as the fall of snow on their 
branches, and there were dead horses about and other 
things. But these boys shouted out their song, and nearby 
other men sat under the banks of ditches smoking and 
chatting. Above the tumult of gun-fire a bugle rang out, 
played by a lad who stepped out into the lane. They were 
the good old notes of "Come to the cookhouse," and a 
fine subtle odour of soup from the field-kitchens told the 
meaning of his music. 

During the night the enemy brought up more guns and 
lengthened his range, and flung over 8-inch stuff" and other 
abominable things with a wide-scattered fire over all these 
fields and villages, so that one could be blown to bits in 
fields of springing crops or in the back garden of any cot- 
tage here or on three sides of any old millhouse. It was 
just a question of luck, but among soldiers who have to pass 
through the places because it is their unpleasant job there 
were old women and girls and farm boys and babies. They 
had stayed there too long with that queer fatalistic belief 
that if the enemy is shelling the next village but one they 
are safe. But the enemy had brought forward his guns 
and had lengthened his range, and now this morning these 
poor people were in the zone of fire in the actual battle- 
fields. Even then some of them dallied to pack their bun- 
dles, anxious, but not panic-stricken, and old ladies in black 
dresses tramped down lanes and roads under the scattered 
fire of shells that came roaring like devils and burst with 
damnable explosions, as though it were nothing but a thun- 
derstorm from which they were hurrying for shelter. 

One old woman told me in queer Flemish patois that she 


wanted to go home, and pointed to her farmstead, which 
was being knocked to pieces by 5.9's. A lanky boy, leaning 
up against a mill-house watching the battle, explained her 
case to me in good English. 

"Old woman is daft," he said. "She wants to get her 
cow in that old house down there. A man was killed there 
five minutes ago, so a Tommy told me." 

He turned to the old wrinkled dame, and said in Flem- 
ish, which was so like English I could make out his words, 
"You come again this afternoon, mother." It seemed to 
me that the afternoon would be no better than the morning 
round about that red-roofed cottage which had lost half its 
walls. It is a strange phase of the war. 

An officer of the Scottish Rifles whom I met up there 
this morning said that at Meteren, from which he had just 
come back after hard fighting, he lived in a deserted farm- 
house, where people had left their chickens and cows, say- 
ing they could do what they liked with them. So the 
Scottish Rifles had baked chicken for supper, and milked 
the cows for breakfast, and escaped the Germans' shell- 
fire in that rural spot, and shot down Germans at easy rifle 

I heard to-day of how some of the Worcesters of the 
33rd Division were put out to prevent the enemy from mov- 
ing north and working between Bailleul and Strazeele, after 
the Germans' attack, and how the general of the division 
gathered together every kind of men he could find to fill the 
breach. They were a miscellaneous lot of fellows, includ- 
ing cyclists, dismounted Tank crews, and orderlies, and this 
little crowd made a glorious stand and kept the enemy back 
by rifle and Lewis-gun fire. 

In this gallant 33rd Division and in its 100th Brigade 
there were Worcesters, Glasgow Highlanders, and King's 
Royal Rifles, the "Church Lads' Brigade," as they are 
called, amongst those who made the stubborn and terrific 
defence of Neuve Eglise. They fought incessantly for 
four days against attack after attack, until they were sur- 


rounded on both flanks. The colonel of the Worcesters 
stayed in the village till the last. Dead Germans now lie 
piled around its walls as proof of this long defence. An- 
other body of troops in this neighbourhood who fought to 
the death were some Highland Light Infantry, whom I first 
met in the days of the old Somme battles, when they showed 
great gallantry in many fights. Now some of them have 
fought their last fight, and died rather than surrender to 
the enemy all round them. 

Between Neuve Eglise and Meteren other troops fought 
during this last week with unyielding spirit against dread- 
ful odds, and only gave ground when they were exposed 
on their flanks and presented such a thin line of khaki that 
the enemy had only to fall against them with his weight of 
fresh divisions and he was bound to break through. So 
with dwindling numbers the Queens fought for three days, 
turned on one flank and then on the other, but still main- 
taining their rear-guard actions and making the enemy pay 
a high price in life and blood for every bit of ground. 

Cyclists of the 33rd Division acted as cavalry, going out 
on patrols to find the enemy's whereabouts, and firing at 
his outposts. Round by Meteren the Scottish Rifles went 
out on stalking expeditions, between heavy attacks which 
they beat off, and lay in ambush for German machine-gun- 
ners, who came creeping up under hedges, and destroyed 
them by rifle-fire. When brigade headquarters was at- 
tacked and taken by Germans, some Royal Engineers, with 
infantry, made a counter-attack and gained back this place, 
destroyed many of the enemy, and brought back forty of 

I saw some of the prisoners this morning marching 
across the battlefield and looking about them insolently with 
an air of pride as though they belonged to the winning side. 
Yet others are now saying quite frankly that the German 
High Command has failed in its big plans. 

Bethune was on their time-table for April 10, and it is 


not theirs now. Bailleul was to have been taken in the first 
attack. Arras was counted as theirs on March 28. 

There were Middlesex men among the defenders of 
Meteren, and this morning they made a fine counter-at- 
tack, which helped to shatter the German garrison there. 
During all this fighting our machine-gunners have had 
many human targets, and have fired so steadily into the 
waves of Germans that outside Meteren they wore out 
forty barrels. All this countryside is littered with German 
dead. One German regiment further south had five bat- 
talion commanders killed in three days, and everywhere 
their losses in officers have been high. 

It is with natural regret that one hears of our with- 
drawal from the heights east of Ypres in order to straighten 
the line and economize men. This is military wisdom and 
beyond any kind of criticism, as it seems to me, but the 
grief lies in the loss of ground captured by so much heroic 
fighting round the old Ypres salient and at such a sacrifice 
of brave lives. There is one other regret to-day, though 
only sentimental. Albert Church tower — the Tower of the 
Golden Virgin, who bent head downwards over that ruined 
city with her babe outstretched — has fallen under gun-fire. 
It was a great landmark bound up with all our memories, 
but, alas! the old prophecy that the war would end when 
the Madonna fell has not been fulfilled, though it was our 
gunners who did their best to hurry up that time of peace. 

April 17 
There are several actions in progress to-day, practically 
all the way from the Flanders Front down from 
Wytschaete to the country in front of the forest of Nieppe 
and as far south as Givenchy. The enemy is making des- 
perate efforts with strong forces to capture Kemmel Hill, 
which his troops have been ordered to take at whatever sac- 
rifice, and with this object he is trying to break away be- 
yond Meteren, west of Bailleul, as well as striking down 
from the ridges north of it. 


These attacks against our northern front were preceded 
yesterday by a strong offensive against the Belgians be- 
tween Kippe and Langemarck on a front of six kilometres 
(four miles), but after gaining entry into the front-line 
trenches the Germans were counter-attacked in the most gal- 
lant way by the Belgians, who made 600 prisoners, from 
regiments representing at least four German divisions, 
among whom were many officers. During our withdrawal 
from the height of Passchendaele, the enemy troops hesi- 
tated very much in following up, and it was many hours 
before their forward patrols drew anywhere near. Mean- 
while our guns were waiting for them, and swept this 
ground with fire, killing their outposts and breaking up their 
assemblies in Polygon Wood and other places on the old 
Flanders battlefields of last year's fighting. All that 
ground is still as horrible as when I described it in the early 
autumn of last year, with its innumerable shell-craters, 
filled to the brim with water and liquid bogs, among its 
dead trees and wreckage of battle. So it is not good for 
advancing troops, and the enemy is wretched there. Pris- 
oners taken here and further south are disconsolate, and 
show no enthusiasm for a continuance of this offensive. 
They have been told by their officers that they are going 
to break through to Calais and the Channel Ports, but they 
do not believe they will ever get there, and admit that their 
losses have been ghastly. 

Meanwhile an army of a different colour is being re- 
vealed to them alongside ours, and they know that on this 
road to Calais they must not only break through British di- 
visions, against whom they have been fighting themselves 
out, but also through French troops, who are now coming 
to our aid after our men have been sustaining such terrible 
onslaughts for nearly two weeks from masses of German 
divisions, passing through each other in endless sequence in 
order to destroy our armies before we could get relief. The 
arrival of French troops on our northern front is the most 
important act that has happened during the past three or 


four days, and it was with deep satisfaction that we met 
these troops on the roads, and knew that at last our poor, 
tired men would get support and help against their over- 
whelming odds. Beside our khaki army has grown very 
quickly an army in blue, the cornflower blue of the French 
poilus. They are splendid men, hard and solid fellows who 
have been war-worn and weather-worn during these three 
and a half years past, and look great fighting men who have 
gone many times into battle, and know all that war can 
teach them in endurance and cunning and quick attack. As 
they came marching up the roads to the Front they were like 
a streaming river of blue — blue helmets and blue coats, and 
blue carts, and blue lorries, all blending into one tone 
through these April mists as they went winding over the 
countryside and through the French market towns, where 
their own people waved to them, and then through villages 
on the edge of the Flanders battlefields, where they waited 
to go into action under the shell-broken wall or under the 
hedges, above which our shell-fire travelled, or in the fields 
where they made their bivouacs, and fragrant steams arose 
to one's nostrils as the cuts tots lifted the lid of stew-pans, 
and hungry men gathered around after the long march. I 
saw some of these French soldiers under fire yesterday, 
harassing fire which the enemy was flinging about the roads 
and fields, and they were very careless of its menace, and 
went about their jobs calmly, with many jokes among them- 
selves, like men who are accustomed to this sort of thing 
and make no account of it. Some of their officers were 
strolling about on a plot of ground which the enemy was 
ploughing with odd shells, big and beastly things which 
came with a shrill sing-song and burst enormously, and 
these French officers, very chic, very courteous to the Eng- 
lish about them, smoked cigarettes and chatted together as 
they watched the battle not far away and the flames of 
Bailleul and the wicked line of fire from German barrages 
down Flemish roads, and their nerves seemed unshaken by 
the noise and they were unexcited. Yesterday morning 


some of their men attacked on the flank of ours and drove 
the enemy out of a village for a time, and helped to 
strengthen our lines of defence for the battle which is now 
going on. It gives one a greater sense of security to know 
that these French forces are with us in the north, and the 
enemy will not be glad to see their blue among our khaki. 

The attack this morning from Robecq, below St.-Venant, 
down to Givenchy, is a serious effort to gain the La Bassee 
Canal and form a strong defensive flank for the enemy 
while he proceeds with his battles further north, and also 
to get more elbow room from the salient, in which he is 
narrowly wedged below Merville. For this purpose he has 
brought up several more divisions, including the 239th, 
which was in the Somme fighting of March, but not heav- 
ily engaged. This one attacked our troops at Robecq, and 
up to the time of my latest knowledge were repulsed with 
heavy losses. Our troops in the line from Robecq to the 
south of Givenchy were the 61st, 4th, 3rd, 1st, and nth 

It was at a place called La Bacquerolles Farm, near Ro- 
becq, where, after heavy shelling, last night the enemy 
rushed one of our outposts at ten o'clock in order to fa- 
cilitate the attack this morning of the German divisions 
north and south. At four o'clock this morning the German 
guns began a heavy bombardment of our lines as far down 
as Givenchy, and maintained it for five hours, using large 
numbers of gas shells on account of the north-east wind, 
which was in their favour. His guns shelled the bridges 
across the canal, in the hope of preventing our supports go- 
ing up. Then his troops came forward in waves on a wide 
front. They were in immense numbers, as usual, with 
many mixed battalions. 

The 9th Division to-day took prisoners from ten differ- 
ent regiments. There were some ten German divisions 
facing four of ours north of Bethune, and all along the line 
our troops were much outnumbered. Nevertheless, the 
enemy was repulsed at all but a few points of attack and 


beaten back bloodily. The fiercest fighting began opposite 
Givenchy and Festubert, east of Bethune, and for several 
hours this morning, which is the latest I know, the enemy's 
efforts had failed against the wonderful resistance of our 
troops. Two hundred prisoners were captured further 
north of this, of different regiments, as I have said, and 
nineteen men of the 468th Infantry Regiment were brought 
in from the ground about La Bacquerolles, where many 
of their dead are lying. 

We seem to have lost one advanced post, but the 17th 
German Division, who tried to storm the high ground of 
Givenchy itself, were raked by our fire. It was in that 
place that the Lancashires of the 55th Division made such 
a great and gallant defence, and our troops there are now 
fighting just as hard. 

The result of all this battle to-day cannot yet be told 
with any certainty, because it is not yet over. But what 
is certain is that the enemy has again suffered huge losses, 
not only from machine-gun and rifle fire, but from the shell- 
fire of field-guns and heavies, which have caught his men 
in their assembly places and moving along roads with ter- 
rible destructive effect, as our prisoners describe. 

One regiment of the 42nd German Division has lost over 
50 per cent, of its strength, and others are on a similar 
scale. These ghastly casualties have been piling up along 
this line between Merville and Bethune since the 13th of this 
month when the Germans have made a series of small at- 
tacks as a prelude to to-day's battle, owing, it seems, to bat- 
talion officers taking the initiative without orders from the 
High Command, in order to push forward and break our 
lines if they could find weakness there. 

On the 13th and 14th some of our South Country troops 
of the 5th Division, who had just come back from Italy, 
were attacked by strong forces repeatedly, and on the sec- 
ond day for five hours at a stretch the enemy endeavoured 
to come across from houses and enclosures west of Merville 
towards St.-Venant. The 5th Division had two brigades 


— the 13th and the 95th — engaged in this battle. In the 
13th Brigade were the West Kents, Scottish Borderers, and 
Warwicks ; and in the 95th, the Devons, Duke of Cornwall's 
Light Infantry, Gloucesters and East Surreys. For those 
five hours our lads fired with rifles, Lewis-guns, and ma- 
chine-guns into solid bodies of Germans, and their field- 
guns tore gaps in the enemy's formations and broke up their 
assemblies before attacks could proceed. One advance in 
five waves was mown down before it could make any prog- 
ress, and others were dealt with in the same way, while 
prisoners say that our fire, which swept their ranks, was 
terrifying and most destructive. Other South Country 
and Scottish troops of the 61 st Division along this and 
other sectors of the battle-front fired their rifles as never 
before. The enemy find it difficult to get ammunition up, 
and one gunner prisoner says that three guns out of his 
battery were destroyed by direct hits. 

On April 15 some of our areoplanes attacked troops as- 
sembling for an advance on the forest of Lamotte, and 
scattered them with machine-gun fire, while our guns after- 
wards pounded them and broke up the attack before it 
could start. This destructive fire of ours has been contin- 
uous for a week, and beyond all doubt the German troops 
engaged on this Merville front have been frightfully pun- 

The situation up north to-day has not changed much 
since I described it yesterday. Meteren seems to be in 
No Man's Land, and it is doubtful how the line exactly runs 
in the Wytschaete sector. The enemy has been making 
persistent efforts to break through to Kemmel Hill. 

On the whole our line of battle is more secure than it 
has been for several days past, and with French co-opera- 
tion we may be justified in believing that the enemy may at 
any rate be held in his present positions, though he may yet 
concentrate further masses of men and guns on this north- 
ern sector. Even German reserves are not inexhaustible, 
and for whatever ground the enemy gains the price he is 


paying in blood and mortality is so high that the wake of 
his advance is one long graveyard, and his hopes must be 
dying with his lost men. That at least is the belief of 
our troops, and they mean to make it so, however great 
their own sacrifice. 


A Day of Slaughter 

April 18 
It was a black day for the enemy yesterday all along the 
line of his attack between Robecq and Givenchy, and espe- 
cially at the southern end by Givenchy itself, where he 
made desperate efforts to gain our defences on the high 
ground there. 

In my first account yesterday I described how he flung 
five hours' bombardment on to our lines — the noise of it 
and of our answering guns was stupendous when I went 
up to that part of the countryside — and how he then at- 
tacked in heavy strength, being repulsed almost everywhere 
with staggering losses. At the end of the day all his ef- 
forts ended in bloody failure, in spite of the daring cour- 
age of his troops, who sacrificed themselves under our 
fire and were only able to gain a few bits of trench-work 
and one or two outposts below our fortified works at Gi- 
venchy, which are quite useless to them for immediate or 
future use. 

It was a big attack for which they had prepared in a 
formidable way. After the shock of their repulse by Lan- 
cashire men of the 55th Division, who were relieved by the 
1st Division, which I have described in detail, they in- 
creased the strength of their heavy artillery by three times, 
bringing up large numbers of howitzers, including 11 -inch 
monsters, massed new divisions in front of us, and deter- 
mined to smash through in the wake of the tremendous 
bombardment. For five hours, as I have said, this storm 


went on with high explosives and gas, and our devoted men 
had to suffer this infernal fire. It was the worst ordeal 
that human beings may be called upon to bear, this stand- 
ing to while all the earth is upheaved and the air is thick 
with shell splinters, but when the bombardment passed and 
the German infantry came forward, our men received them 
with blasts of machine-gun fire, incessant volleys of rifle- 
fire, and a trench-mortar bombardment that burst with 
deadly effect among the attacking troops. This trench- 
mortar barrage of ours was one of the most awful means 
of slaughter yesterday, especially when the enemy tried to 
cross La Bassee Canal further north; and in that sector 
our infantry and gunner officers say that more Germans 
were killed yesterday along the canal bank than on any other 
day since the fighting in this neighbourhood. One bat- 
tery of trench-mortars did most deadly execution until 
their pits were surrounded, and only two of their crews 
were able to escape. Our machine-gunners fought out in 
the open after some of their positions had been wiped out 
by the gun-fire, and caught the enemy waves at fifty yards' 
range and mowed them down. 

But the enemy was not checked for a long time, in spite 
of his losses, and when one body fell another came up to 
fill their place, and press on into any gap that had been made 
by their artillery or their own machine-gun sections. There 
was one such momentary gap between a body of the Black 
Watch of the ist Division, who had been weakened by 
shell-fire, and some of the Gloucesters further north, and 
into this the enemy tried to force a way. Other Scottish 
troops were in reserve, and when it became clear that a 
portion of our line was endangered by this turning move- 
ment the Camerons came forward with grim intent, and by 
a fierce counter-attack swept through the gap and flung 
back the enemy, so that the position was restored. Further 
north some Gloucesters of the ist Division were fighting 
the enemy both ways, as once before in history when they 
fought back to back, thereby winning the honour of wear- 


ing their cap badge back and front, which they do to this 
day. Germans had worked behind»them as well as in front 
of them, and they were in a tight corner, but did not yield, 
and finally, after hard fighting, cleared the ground about 
them. Meanwhile further south some North Lancashire 
troops on the canal had lost some parts of their front line 
under an intense bombardment, but still fought on in the 
open, repulsing every effort to drive them back, and smash- 
ing the enemy out of their positions, so that the only rem- 
nants of German outposts clung on until late last night, up 
to which time there was savage strife on both sides. 

At one time there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting round 
one of our battalion headquarters to which the Germans 
penetrated, and a gallant and successful defence made by 
servants and staff. Elsewhere in yesterday's battle Welsh- 
men — the 2nd Welsh Regiment and South Wales Border- 
ers — fought stubbornly and with greatest gallantry in hours 
most critical for our success along this line. They were 
fighting in small parties, holding on to isolated bits of 
ground and rallying to counter-attack when the enemy had 
got a footing in forward lines. 

The battle spread up northwards over a wide front, and 
on another sector of the line some of our English battal- 
ions of the 4th Division engaged the enemy's masses and 
destroyed them so utterly that at the end of the day they 
had gained nothing after terrible casualties on their side. 
Part of this fighting was round the farm called Riez du 
Vinage, where a day or two ago some of our South Coun- 
try troops — Somersets and Hampshires — made a dashing 
attack and captured prisoners and machine-guns. 

The attack north of Givenchy was at a different time 
from that down south. It began at four in the morning 
and took place in half darkness, and was all over by seven 
in the morning, when German troops were demoralized and 
beaten by the severity of their losses. In Pacquart Wood, 
nearby, their assemblies were raked by machine-gun fire, 
and when they left the wood many others fell. One col- 


umn of assault drove into the hamlet of Riez du Vinage, 
and the King's Own were forced to retire a little, and after- 
wards drew back to another chance of counter-attack. 

Extraordinary scenes took place on the canal bank when 
the enemy tried to cross. In the twilight of early dawn a 
party came out of the wood and tried to get across the 
water, but were seen by our machine-gunners and shot 
down. Then another body of men advanced, and carried 
with them a floating bridge, but when those who were not 
hit reached the water's edge they found the bridge as fixed 
did not reach to the other side. Some of them walked on 
to it, expecting, perhaps, to jump the gap, but they were 
shot off, and other men on the bank were also caught un- 
der our fire. A corporal of our men went down to the 
canal edge, and flung hand-grenades at the Germans still 
struggling to fix their bridge, and then a lieutenant and a 
few men rushed down and pulled the bridge on to our side 
of the bank. Later this young officer saw one of our pon- 
toons drifting down, and he swam out to it and caught hold 
of it and made it fast beyond the enemy's reach, but in a 
position so that some of our men of the King's Own and 
Seaforths ran across and caught the enemy under their fire 
on his side of the canal. 

At seven o'clock yesterday morning a white handker- 
chief was hoisted by the enemy. Three hundred of them 
made signs of surrender. Some of them changed their 
minds at the last moment and ran away, but 150 gave them- 
selves up, and some of them swam the canal in order to 
reach our side for this purpose. They were shivering, in 
their wet clothes and in the north-east wind which lashed 
over the battle-lines yesterday, and they were very miser- 
able men. 

Yesterday evening it was decided to recapture the 
ground, which, as I have said, had been left in the enemy 
hands near Riez du Vinage, and this attack was made by 
the King's Own, and succeeded easily. This morning our 
patrols went out gathering up odd men and small parties of 


the enemy as prisoners. In this sector they have lost all 
stomach for the fight, having suffered fearful things since 
they have been in the line from our artillery fire and the 
defence of our men. 

Many of them are hungry, having been six days on two 
days' rations, and they bemoan the losses of their compan- 
ions and battalions. The 4th Ersatz Division, for instance, 
was severely mauled in the battles of the first phase of the 
German offensive, and was then sent further north, where, 
according to prisoners' letters, they devoutly hoped for rest 
on a quiet sector after their blood bath. But while that 
letter was still in the man's pocket, and while he and his 
comrades were marching up to Merville, this new battle 
was being ordered by the German commanders, and these 
poor wretches were flung in without warning. They say 
that our harassing fire on roads and camps in all the coun- 
try between Armentieres and La Bassee is simply fear- 
ful, and that all day long and all night their transport and 
their working parties — thousands of men are working fe- 
verishly on road-making with concrete slabs — are slashed 
to pieces, while there is never any rest or safety for them. 
Six German divisions were engaged yesterday, and all of 
them suffered many casualties, so that for some time at 
least, until they recover from the shock which our men 
gave them, the heart has been knocked out of them. 

How long is this massacre of men going on? It is 
reaching heights of horror which the world has hardly seen 
in its history. The senselessness of it makes one despair 
of humanity. For what do these Germans hope to gain 
out of all this sacrifice, these field-grey men who come 
swarming upon our lines, wave after wave, gaining ground 
or not gaining ground, but always leaving a wake of dead 
and dying and mangled men behind them? The German 
High Command is out for victory domination at all costs 
save that of their own skins and blood, but not even the 
full and brutal victory which they are failing to gain would 
give any increase of comfort or any forgetfulness of agony 


to these German soldiers who are sent into that carnage. 
Yet it goes on, and will go on until even they revolt from 
increasing slaughter. 

Up in the north, between Wytschaete and Bailleul, where 
the French are fighting with us, there were no further at- 
tacks on a big scale after the preparatory efforts to cap- 
ture Kemmel Hill. The enemy is probably pausing, be- 
fore striking another blow with full weight by troops spe- 
cially trained to hill-fighting, like the Jaegers and nth Ba- 
varians and Alpine corps from the mountain districts in 
Germany. The Alpine troops have so far not indulged 
their spirits with plunder on a big scale, which is their in- 
tention, as revealed in one of their letters. 

"We have made up our minds," wrote one of them, "to 
plunder ruthlessly, and that is the beauty of the whole 
thing. In the Alpine Corps we understand the business. " 

Meanwhile in the north the Belgians are justly elated 
over their brilliant success, in which they attacked and cap- 
tured 700 of the enemy. According to the account of 
Belgian officers, their gallant troops went into action sing- 
ing and waving their helmets to salute their flying men, 
who flew low overhead, and every man was uplifted by 
enthusiasm. The enemy was hard hit by them. He will 
get more such knocks from the armies of Britain, France, 
and Belgium now barring his path. 

No big infantry attacks have been launched by the enemy 
during the past few days since his costly failures round 
Givenchy, but in my opinion this pause is simply due to 
his intention to prepare fully, by massing of heavy guns 
and new divisions, for another phase of his offensive on a 
scale as equal as possible to that of March 21. Owing to 
his immense losses during the last four weeks — I see they 
are calculated roughly as reaching about 400,000 men — 
his most stupendous efforts will hardly enable him to bring 
into line anything like that first assembly of divisions, but 


he has still very large numbers of men available, and I 
have no doubt he is now engaged in putting them into po- 
sition for immediate action. Where he will attempt to 
strike next will soon be known; he is threatening all along 
the line from Ypres to the Somme. 

Last night at ten o'clock he began a violent bombard- 
ment of our lines north of Aveluy Wood on the Ancre, 
and this was followed by fierce fighting in the darkness 
which lasted until four o'clock this morning. It was a 
night which favoured such an enterprise, for the sky was 
clear and it was possible for men to see their way some 
distance ahead, though not visible themselves until quite 
close. Our men were ready for them, and there was se- 
vere fighting on both sides. Apart from that action, there 
was only harassing fire and outpost encounters from one 
end of the line to the other. 

April 20 
Almost for the first day since that March 21 — now just a 
calendar month ago since the enemy began his massed at- 
tacks in immense strength, with intent to destroy our ar- 
mies and divide us from the French — there has been no 
German action against us, and our front has quietened 
down into desultory shelling. 

We may claim honestly and thankfully that this is due 
to our battalions in line from Wytschaete and Kemmel to 
the Ancre and the Somme, who, by their most determined 
resistance under long and fierce bombardment and against 
fresh storm troops far outnumbering themselves, beat off 
the enemy's last efforts to break their front and hurled him 
back with ghastly losses. 

Otherwise there would have been no pause. For had the 
enemy smashed past the Givenchy Keep the day before 
yesterday and crossed the La Bassee Canal north of 
Bethune, his crowded divisions and field artillery would 
have sought to surge through on the roads to the Aire in 
another drive. Or had he succeeded in turning Kemmel 


Hill and storming the heights of Mont Rouge and Mont 
Noir there would have been no waiting policy, but the 
German High Command would have flung in all their re- 
serves in the attempt to force a gap and gain a way through 
to the coast. 

Our men lying out there in the ditches of Flanders, with 
French troops mingled with them so that one sees a glint 
of blue under one hedge and mud-coloured khaki under 
another, repulsed all the attacks on Thursday and Friday 
by their sweeping fire from ground that had been man- 
gled by the bombardment about them, and smashed not 
only those waves of German storm troops, but also the 
plans of the German High Command. What the Germans 
have reaped in the preliminary attacks beyond Bailleul, and 
still more in their desperate attempts to break through 
between Robecq and Givenchy, is a new harvest of bleed- 
ing men garnered in field-hospitals behind their lines, and 
filled with an unceasing wreckage of human life. 

Another blow to them was their bloody repulse by the 
Belgians on April 17. They had prepared an attack in 
force. Besides three regiments of the 1st Landwehr Di- 
vision, usually holding this sector between the Ypres-Sta- 
den Railway and Kippe, they brought up from Dixmude 
— poor Dixmude — into whose flaming ruins I went when it 
was first bombarded in October of 1914 — two regiments 
of the 6th Bavarian Division, and from the coast the 5th 
Matrosen Regiment of the 2nd Naval Division, with a 
regiment of the 58th Saxons. 

It was a heavy force, and they hoped to surprise and 
annihilate the Belgian resistance by their weight and quick- 
ness of attack. The Belgians were waiting for them, 
standing to in those swampy fields which they have held 
against the enemy for three and a half years, always shelled, 
always paying a daily toll of life and limb; not getting 
much glory or recognition, because of the great battles 
elsewhere, but patient and enduring as when I knew them 


on the Yser in the first dreadful winter of the war, and 
their little Regular Army fought to a finish. 

Even before the battle last Wednesday the German Ma- 
rines, Saxon troops, and Landwehr suffered misery and 
lost many men. They lay out in the fiat wet fields two 
nights previously, and were very cold and scared by the 
Belgian gun-fire which burst among them. They had no 
great artillery behind them, and the Saxons and the Ger- 
man sailors now prisoners of the Belgians curse bitterly, 
because they were expected to get through easily in spite 
of this. The enemy's intention was to take Bixschoote and 
advance across the Yser Canal, driving south to Pope- 
ringhe. What they did by their massed attacks was to pene- 
trate at a point near Hockske, south-east of Merckem, the 
main weight of their pressure being directed along the 
Bixschoote road. 

The Belgians delivered a quick counter-attack with won- 
derful enthusiasm among officers and men. They had a 
perfect knowledge of the country, and used this fully by 
striking up from a place called Luyghem in such a way 
that the enemy was driven towards the swamp, where any 
who went in sank up to the neck in ice-cold water. The 
Germans were cut off from their own lines and trapped. 
Seven hundred of them surrendered, men of all the regi- 
ments I have mentioned, and they seemed to think them- 
selves lucky at getting off so cheaply, though they quailed 
when they were brought back through the towns behind 
the lines, and the Belgian women, remembering many 
things, raised a cry as these men passed. It was not a 
pleasant sound. I heard it once in France, when a Ger- 
man officer passed through with an escort. It was a cry 
which made my blood run cold. But there is gladness 
among the Belgian troops, for they had long waited for 
their chance of striking, and made good. 

So the German High Command cannot be well pleased 
with the last four days of their record. Their time-table 
has at least been disarranged, and the figures of the cas- 


ualties with which one day they must face their people grow 
apace. What the German soldiers are saying about it all 
we only know from prisoners, some of whom believe in 
victory and are arrogant in that belief, but many of whom 
are disillusioned and despairing. 

One curious document has fallen into our hands, re- 
vealing a disaffected spirit in the German ranks. It is a 
letter from a man of the 3rd Guards Division, written to 
his brother in the 15th Reserve Division: 

"I strongly advise you to hide yourself and remain be- 
hind when your company goes into line. You needn't be 
afraid of punishment. If you should be punished, it would 
only be lightly, and that is better than being killed. When 
I rejoined my company I heard that my best friend had 
been killed, and that so affected me that I vowed I would 
never go into the line again. You will find that you are 
not the only one to remain behind. In fact, you will find 
more than half the company there. 

"At Passchendaele I was fool enough to go into the 
line, and on our way our company got a full hit from an 
enemy shell. Twenty-three were killed and twenty-eight 
wounded in our platoon. The rest of the company was 
blown to atoms. With much trouble we collected eight 
men of the first platoon, twelve men of the second, and 
one man of the third platoon. 

"And what were the results of my devotion to duty? 
Three days of charcoal fumes, no sleep, wet to the skin, 
boots full of slime and mud, my heart in my boots, my 
eyes closed — waiting for death. Wise ones had remained 
and made themselves comfortable. " 

A grim picture of an unrecorded episode of war like 
thousands of others month by month. But the spirit of this 
letter shows that, in spite of courage, some German sol- 
diers at least are asking themselves why they should be 
so sacrificed in this shambles for the blood lust of their 


leaders. After last week's battles many thousands of them 
must repent of their belief in a cheap and easy victory over 
the British armies. But that will make no difference to 
men like Ludendorff. The check they got last week will 
make no difference to their policy of bringing up all the 
possible weight of men and guns and hurling it against the 
British and French troops. They will make — perhaps be- 
fore these words are printed, certainly before many days 
have passed — another and greater attempt to capture Kem- 
mel, and their recent inactivity on the Somme does not 
mean at all that they have given up the idea of seizing 
the high ground beyond Albert and advancing past Vil- 
lers-Bretonneux towards Amiens. They are only biding 
their time before striking again with more men and more 

After being on the Flanders front and seeing the pan- 
orama of that battle between Kemmel and Bailleul, with its 
flaming villages and farms, where lately our dear men, 
who had been fighting incessantly for many days, were 
supported and relieved in certain sectors by French troops, 
I went to-day southwards to see how things are about the 
Somme, where the enemy stays below Villers-Bretonneux 
on the south side of the river, and in Vaire Wood, beyond 
Corbie on the north side, with Amiens still so far from 
them that its high cathedral and shining roofs, dim through 
the mists which rise from the river, must seem like a mirage 
mocking at their hopes. 

They are shelling Amiens each day with high velocities 
from long-range guns, and as I passed through to-day 
the savage howl of these things came overhead. At night 
they bomb it from waves of aeroplanes, as a week or two 
ago when I was there. On a clear moonlight night these 
raiders came over and dropped their explosives, killing and 
wounding women and children and slaughtering poor 
beasts, so that the white light of the moon shone down 
upon dead horses lying in pools of blood. 

Most of the enemy's shelling is on the railway, but his 


bombs are scattered about this great old city, which for 
me and many others in this war is crowded with memories, 
some happy and some pitiful; of charming people there 
who became our friends ; of little dinners with officers who 
came for a brief spell between their battles; of shopping 
expeditions, when there was always laughter and sparkling 
eyes behind the counter; of walks along the Somme on 
summer days, with the birds singing above the rumble of 
the gun-fire away there where the river was red with blood, 
and of moonlit walks about the close of the cathedral, so 
beauteous in its white miracle of stone, so high and grand 
above all the strife of men, and yet so touched with ten- 
derness, as it seemed to me, for all the aching hearts that 
came to stand awhile below its tall, straight columns — 
women and children, muddy soldiers, French and English, 
Australians and Scots, peasant-girls and great ladies — with 
the light streaming through the painted windows upon 
them, and a listening silence in their souls. 

I was very glad to see to-day that the cathedral has not 
been hit by shell-fire. Some high explosives of bomb or 
shell have burst near it, but have only scarred its walls and 
buttresses and broken some of its windows. That is sad 
enough, for they were windows of old glass, dating from 
the fifteenth century, and it was priceless. But we are 
still saved the tragedy of losing the beauty of that great 
shrine which holds so much of the soul of France, and is 
one of the treasures of the world. . . . Poor Amiens! It 
was in sadness that I passed through her streets to-day, 
with that sense of sinister menace which always comes to 
one in a city under fire, like Arras or Armentieres. Be- 
yond I travelled to ground from which one looks on to the 
German positions and the line of country across the Somme 
which will be our next battlefields when the enemy makes 
another thrust this way. 

Immediately in front of where I stood, across the river, 
was Villers-Bretonneux, with the ruins made during re- 
cent weeks, and now all jagged and fretted on the sky- 


line, like the crumbling battlements of a mediaeval castle. 
For several days the enemy has been pouring gas shells into 
it, and I saw this work being done this morning, and each 
shell burst with a yellowish cloud in which there is deadly 
poison, fatal if one is without his gas-mask. Some shells 
came howling on my side of the river, but, apart from these 
and odd bursts of machine-gun fire, the battle-line was 
strangely quiet — quiet, but grim and sinister. 

In the morning the sky was dark and heavy along the 
front with storm clouds, and in places the snow fell thick 
enough to whiten the fields for an hour or two. This April 
snow was strange, for it rested on hedges already white 
with blossoming thorn, and on fruit-trees in orchards that 
are laden with the promise of this year's harvest. 

A north-east wind came moaning over the battle-lines, 
and through the clouds there were passing gleams of sun- 
light which touched the ruins of that charred village of 
Villers-Bretonneux, in which clouds of foul vapours 
roamed, and along the barren ridge which rises from the 
southern bank of the Somme to Vaire Wood, where the 
enemy has his outposts. At the moment the guns were 
mostly silent. Only here and there and now and then 
there were flashes from the valley of the Somme, and 
five sharp hammer-strokes from a battery in action, be- 
tween sudden splutterings of machine-gun fire. Mean- 
while, in the villages behind the lines near the point of 
liaison and along the roads which lead to those sectors of 
the front, our troops are mingled with the French, who 
are also reinforcing us in the region of Bailleul. They 
come marching along with full packs — and the French 
"Poilu's" pack is very full, rising high above his blue hel- 
met, for he stuffs a mass of things inside for the comfort 
of the outer and inner man, with extra pairs of boots and 
tin pots for warming his food, and some dog's-eared books 
for quiet moments under shell-fire, and tobacco tins and 


bits of chocolate mixed up with his vests and love-letters 
and old socks. But he carries all this like a snail carries 
its shell — as part of himself, and does not seem over- 
burdened. With their rifles stacked on the side-walks they 
stroll up and down the streets of villages which bear the 
wound marks of war, with gaps and wreckage between their 
houses, and brick-work scarred with shrapnel, and carry 
on friendly conversations with Australian soldiers, Tom- 
mies, Jocks, and our traffic men, who are the masters of 
ceremony along the roads of war, and friendly souls to 
old women, small children, wandering Chinamen, stray 
dogs, and the girls at the level crossings between one trans- 
port column and another. These French and English con- 
versations are interesting and peculiar. With few words 
like "good," "no," "bon," "fini," "sale boche," eked out 
by shrugs, winks, bursts of laughter, and the language of 
signs the soldiers of both nations understand each other 
perfectly, and establish the friendliest relations. This min- 
gling of blue and khaki has changed the colour scheme in 
some of our scenes of war, and gives one a sense of closer 
union with the spirit and valour of France. French am- 
bulances and British ambulances, their wounded and ours, 
pass each other down some of the roads, and on the same 
battlefields men of France and England are together. 

A day or two ago I saw some of our walking wounded 
in Flanders, making their way slowly to field dressing- 
stations. They had their arms about each other for mu- 
tual support, and limped painfully through the village, 
which the enemy was harassing with scattered shells. Two 
French officers standing by watched these wounded pass, 
and one of them said, 'Those English boys know how to 
suffer bravely." Presently a French soldier, hit in the 
leg, stumbled by on the arm of one of our men, and the 
officer said, "Cest l'Entente cordiale de la souffrance" 
(It is the cordial understanding of pain). 

Our men are stoical in suffering. In the casualty clear- 
ing-stations to which they came back in large numbers dur- 


ing the worst days of these battles, there was hardly any 
moan among them, even in the wards where the badly 
wounded lay. In one place I went to during the hardest 
fighting on the Somme, there was a great congestion of 
wounded, owing to the way in which some of our field- 
hospitals had to pack up their tents and evacuate their pa- 
tients with the enemy bearing down on them. It was an 
old place like a mediaeval castle, with thick, high walls 
around, and in long rooms, built perhaps for barracks, our 
wounded lay in rows on the floors, stretcher by stretcher, 
in long vistas of blanketed bodies, upstairs and downstairs. 
It was a castle of pain, and no poet of the Middle Ages 
writing an allegory of human suffering caused by the evil 
spell of man's own wickedness could have conjured up a 
more tragic vision than was here on these bare boards, 
where English, Scottish, and Irish lads lay waiting for the 
surgeons after great battles against an overwhelming 
enemy, more cruel than any devouring dragon or monster 
of mythology. But they did not groan very much. 
Hardly at all, except when a man turned and moaned in 
his sleep. One only heard the hard breathing of many 
suffering men, and now and then long, quivering sighs. 
Many of them were smoking as they lay still with wide- 
open eyes, and their courage was as fine here as on the 
field of battle. 

Nearest to Amiens 

April 24 
After a very heavy bombardment the enemy attacked 
Villers-Bretonneux this morning with two divisions, and 
as I write the battle is in progress. So far his troops have 
not advanced far, but seem to be in the outskirts of the 

Villers-Bretonneux is that village on the ridge south-east 


of Amiens, which I have described several times lately, 
after seeing it fiercely shelled by high explosives and gas. 
It is a place of some size, where we used to have a corps 
headquarters and administrative offices, but for the last 
two weeks or more it has gradually been smashed and 
ruined under the enemy's fire, and is now seen as a line 
of fretted walls and broken buildings on high ground above 
the Somme, with clouds of yellowish gas floating about it. 
It is an important position in reference to Amiens, perched 
up there on the hill above the Somme, and its capture was 
the definite objective of the enemy this morning, including 
ground beyond it, making a total depth of advance of four 
or five kilometres, should they succeed. They also intended 
to take the village of Cachy, on the road from Villers- 
Bretonneux to Boves, which is on the River Avre, due 
east of Amiens. 

I was in Boves yesterday afternoon when all was fairly 
quiet, except for harassing fire and counter-battery work in 
the neighbourhood until about four o'clock when a heavy 
bombardment began on both sides all along this line. It 
does not seem to have lasted long and was destructive shoot- 
ing against gun positions. For some days our field-bat- 
teries have been severely engaged, and the enemy's artil- 
lery has searched for them continually in order to knock 
out the guns and gunners, as I heard yesterday from one 
of our gunnery officers as he sat on his kit outside a small 
tent, in a little orchard laden with blossom, on the edge 
of this zone of fire, and asked me for general news of the 
war, and then with a "So long," said, "I must be going 
up to the battery.' , He went up, not knowing that be- 
fore night passed he would be in the midst of another bat- 
tle, after long and tragic adventures on the way down from 
the railway embankment by St.-Quentin, beginning on that 
day, March 21, from which we date all recent history. His 
gunners had never rested since then. 

To-day the German bombardment broke loose in all its 
fury at about three o'clock in the morning, and lasted until 


something like 6.45, when these two divisions of infantry 
advanced upon Villers-Bretonneux and Cachy from Han- 
gard Wood and Marcelcave and the ground below War- 
fusee. They were the 4th Guards Division, who have al- 
ready been heavily engaged twice in these recent battles, 
and are now for the third time, with the 77th Division 
recently from Russia, and not before in action on this front. 
They are mostly Rhinelanders and Westphalians, with 
groups of Alsatians. The Guards, after their heavy losses, 
have received fresh drafts from Berlin, and are fairly up 
to strength again. At the same time as this attack Was 
launched this morning a third German division, the 13th, 
made up also of Westphalian troops, attacked the French 
near Castel, to the southwards of us, gaining footing for 
a time, it seems on the rising ground, round which French 
troops pivoted from the right and threw them back. On 
our front the enemy used Tanks for the first time in this 
offensive, though there have been many reports that he was 
about to do so. But these were seen beyond all doubt, 
three of them advancing with German infantry down the 
road to Cachy and Domart. It is possible that, also for the 
first time in this war, there will be Tanks engaged against 
Tanks, like a naval engagement between cruisers. 

The enemy was able for a time to get a footing in the 
outskirts of Villers-Bretonneux, where there has been 
close and hard fighting, but my latest news is that all our 
positions round Hangard Wood are intact, and that the 
enemy has suffered many losses from our artillery and 
machine-gun fire. 

To-morrow I may have more to tell. Except for a Ger- 
man raid near Albert and a minor engagement near Ro- 
becq, in which our men took sixty prisoners, no infantry 
action has taken place on the rest of the front, but all along 
the line the enemy has been shooting heavily from Ypres 
downwards, wherever his guns can reach. It is, perhaps, 
the tuning-up of his artillery for another phase of his 
offensive. To-day's battle at Villers-Bretonneux has, as I 


have told, only limited and short objectives, and is planned 
altogether differently from previous actions since March 21, 
which have been unlimited in their objectives, with troops 
under orders to push as far forward as possible wherever 
they could find a gap or a weakening. It is perhaps re- 
action caused by slaughter of massed attacks which failed 
definitely at Arras and from Givenchy northwards. 

April 25 
In my account yesterday of the fighting round Villers- 
Bretonneux I was only able to give the narrative up to the 
point when the enemy had reached the outskirts of the vil- 
lage, after his attack with large numbers of infantry and 
some Tanks upon the English battalions of the 8th Division, 
who included Berkshires, Northamptons, Middlesex, and 
East Lancashires. 

After that many things have happened, for we lost Vil- 
lers-Bretonneux completely. The enemy was in possession 
of it and of the neighbouring ground long enough to stuff it 
with men and machine-guns, and up to ten o'clock last 
night believed that he held it firmly and permanently. But 
after that hour it seems that a change in the situation was 
made by a brilliant counter-attack of Australian troops, 
who, by the most skilful and daring piece of generalship, 
were sent forward in the darkness, without preliminary 
artillery preparation, and, relying absolutely on the weapons 
they carried, to regain this important position, which gave 
the enemy full observation of our positions on both sides 
of the Somme valley beyond Amiens. 

The splendid courage of the Australian troops, the cun- 
ning of their machine-gunners, and the fine leadership of 
their officers, achieved success, and in conjunction with 
English battalions they spent the night clearing out the 
enemy from the village, where he made a desperate re- 
sistance, and brought back altogether something like 700 
or 800 prisoners. It was a complete reversal of fortune 
for the enemy, and, in this twenty-four hours of fighting 




Railways - 




he has lost large numbers of men, whose bodies lie in heaps 
between Villers-Bretonneux and Warfusee, and all about 
the ruins and fields in that neighbourhood. Owing to the 
late hour of this counter-attack I knew nothing of what had 
happened in the night until I went down early this morning 
to that sector of our front, and saw scenes which at once 
revealed this turn of fortune's wheel. 

The village of Villers-Bretonneux itself, which I saw 
above the valley of the Somme, down which I passed, was 
no longer under fire, either from our guns or from the 
enemy's, and from its quietude it seemed as if a truce had 
been declared there, though, as I learnt quickly, there was 
no truce, but only a cessation of gun-fire, because the Aus- 
tralian, English, and German soldiers were still mixed up so 
closely that shelling was impossible on both sides. Even 
now German machine-gunners entirely cut off from their 
lines by the counter-attack, resisting in bits of ruin and 
below banks near the village on the western side, were 
maintaining fire on our men, who were engaged in routing 
them out. 

Several of our roads showed every sign of murderous fire 
which German gunners had flung about yesterday, and many 
dead horses lay about the tracks. But passing them were 
living men, though many of them had the ash-grey look of 
dead bodies, and they were Germans in the field grey of 
their army, and now our prisoners. There were many of 
them trudging slowly away from the battlefields under 
escort of English and Australian soldiers in small parties, 
here and there with only two or three of our men guarding 
them, and one long column numbering several hundred. 

All through the morning I saw these groups limping 
slowly back. Some of them carried stretchers high on 
their shoulders with bodies of their own wounded officers 
and men, and now and again they halted on the roadside 
and laid their stretchers down, and I saw gaunt faces star- 
ing up beneath grey overcoats — gaunt, grey faces of men 
gravely wounded. At the head of some of these parties 


walked German officers in steel helmets, holding themselves 
stiffly, but punctilious in saluting us, and non-commissioned 
officers marshalled their own men with rasping commands, 
as though still on their own side of the lines. They were 
tall, sturdy bodies of men, but with a worn famished look 
not surprising to see after their night of terror, and many 
hours without food, as they were cut off from supplies by 
our artillery fire before the battle. The biggest crowd I 
saw came marching in front of the Australian headquarters 
this morning, and the staff officers, who had been working 
all night in the direction of the battle, came out to see 
these "birds," and were glad to see so many of them as 
visible proof of success. There would have been thirty 
more but for two German shells, which caught this column 
as they were leaving Villers-Bretonneux, killing that num- 
ber on the road. Many of the others whom I now saw, and 
who lay down on the grass in every attitude of exhaustion, 
were bespattered with blood, which mixed in clots on the 
white dust of their clothes. The held in which they lay 
was all silver and gold with daisies and buttercups, and 
these heaps of field-grey men, in their grim helmets, which 
give them a strange malignant look, spread themselves out 
on this lawn, and some of them slept until their sergeants 
shouted to them again, and they lined up for their rations. 
They were men who had been fighting all night in Villers- 
Bretonneux — fighting with two fingers pressed to the 
triggers of machine-guns, fighting with rifles over bits of 
wall and through the slits in walls of ruined houses, until 
English and Australian troops got round them and shouted 
"Hands up!" They were men of German divisions, who 
yesterday morning at six o'clock went with their Tanks to 
seize the village which had been swept by fire for hours, 
and rilled with gas shells, so that they did not expect such 
trouble. What happened then relates exclusively to Eng- 
lish battalions, for in the beginning of the attack the 
Australian front was hardly touched, except for minor 


affairs at Sailly-le-Sec, in which enemy parties were re- 
pulsed with losses. 

But in Villers-Bretonneux and around it were our East 
Lancashire, Middlesex, Berkshire, and Northampton 
troops, with West Yorkshires and others. They had to 
endure a terrible ordeal of many hours of monstrous fire, 
so intense that an officer of the Middlesex, who was in the 
Foreign Legion before he entered this war and has been 
through many battles, says this gun-fire is the worst he has 
seen. He is a hardened man, schooled to the endurance of 
fire if any man may be, but amongst his men were some 
young soldiers who have come up as drafts. The enemy 
was favoured by mist, for which he had been waiting, and 
under cover of this he sent his Tanks into action for the 
first time. There were four or five of them of heavier 
armament than ours, with 2-inch guns and four machine- 
guns. Two or three of them moved to the eastern side of 
Villers-Bretonneux, working up our trenches there, and 
another, or more than one, team came along the valley be- 
low the village and turned up to the western side. 

Four divisions, not two, as I said yesterday before we 
had full identifications, took part in this attack. They were 
the 4th Guards, the 77th — quite new to this phase of the 
war — 228th, and 243rd. This morning our intelligence 
officers obtained identifications of twelve regiments in each 
division and of each company in each battalion. They 
were in full strength of divisions, and a great weight of 
men on such a narrow front against one of ours that had 
already been under frightful fire, and had been living in 
clouds of poison gas with their masks on. The officer 
of the Middlesex to whom I have referred was in a bit of a 
trench when the first German Tank attacked his men on the 
east side of the village, and it went right over him as he 
lay crouching, and travelled on accompanied by bodies of 
troops. The Middlesex and West Yorks put up a great 
fight, but had to give ground to superior numbers. East 
Lancashires, who were the garrison of Villers-Bretonneux, 


were also attacked with great odds, and after a brave re- 
sistance fell back with the general line, which took up 
position, towards the end of this first phase of the battle 
west of Villers-Bretonneux and in the edge of Bois l'Abbe, 
to the left of it. 

Into this wood in the course of the day a German patrol 
of one officer and forty men made their way, and stayed 
there out of touch with their own men, and were taken 
prisoners last night. Last night the enemy seemed secure 
in Villers-Bretonneux, and, as I have said, crammed it with 
machine-guns and men. 

The Australians then decided to make a night attack. 
"It looked a pretty mad thing to do," said one of their 
generals, but in war it is the pretty mad thing which some- 
times brings the best victory, for audacity wins when it is 
carried out with judgment and skill. This morning his 
prisoners were outside his headquarters as proof of his 
achievement, and his men were still mopping up Villers- 

It was difficult to attack suddenly like this. There was 
no artillery preparation. There should have been a moon, 
but by bad luck it was veiled in a thick, wet mist. It was 
decided by the Australian general that his men should go 
straight into the attack with the bayonet and machine-gun, 
not waiting for artillery protection, which would tell the 
enemy what was coming. The plan of attack was to push 
forward in two bodies, and to encircle Villers-Bretonneux, 
while some Northamptons, D. C.L.I. , and others were in 
the centre with orders to fight through the village from the 
north. This manoeuvre was carried out owing to the mag- 
nificent courage of each Australian soldier and the gallantry 
of their officers. 

The Germans fought desperately when they found them- 
selves in danger of being trapped. They had nests of 
machine-guns along the railway embankment below the 
village, and these fired fiercely, sweeping the attackers, who 
tried to advance upon them. Those who worked round 


north and east of the village, also, came under a burst of 
machine-gun fire from weapons hidden among the ruins 
and in trenches, but they rounded up the enemy and fought 
him, from one bit of ruin to another, in streets which used 
to be rilled with civilian life only a few weeks ago, and 
crowded with staff officers and staff cars, but now were 
littered with dead bodies and raked by bullets. The Aus- 
tralians captured two light field-guns which the enemy had 
brought up in the morning according to his present habit 
of advancing guns behind his third wave of men, and 
several minenwerfer and many machine-guns. During the 
night they and our English troops seized over 500 men as 
prisoners, and sent them back, and several hundreds seem 
to have been routed out to-day. Judging from those I saw 
myself, the living were not so many as the dead. 

It was fierce fighting in Villers-Bretonneux and around 
it last night and this morning. The enemy fought until 
put out by bayonet or rifle-bullet or machine-gun, and the 
Australian officers say that they have never seen such piles 
of dead, not even outside Bullecourt or Lagnicourt last 
year, as those who lie about this village of frightful strife. 

This morning the enemy were seen massing in Hangard 
Wood, and our field-batteries wiped them out, and other 
parties came "dribbling over" — it is the Australian way of 
putting it — from Warfusee, and Australian guns swept 
them away. Our horse artillery also had terrible targets. 

German Tanks, though heavier than ours, with bigger 
guns, have now beaten a retreat, leaving one of their type 
in No Man's Land. It has a high turret and thick armour 
plates, and is steered and worked on a different system 
from ours. One of them was killed by a Tank of our old 
class, and then we put in some of our newer, faster and 
smaller types, which can steer almost as easily as motor- 
cars, as I know, because I have travelled in one at a fast 
pace over rough ground. 

These set out to attack bodies of German infantry of the 
77th Division, forming up near Cachy. It was a terrible 


encounter, and when they returned this morning their flanks 
were red with blood. They slew Germans, not by dozens 
nor by scores, but by platoons and companies. They got 
right among the masses of men, and swept them with fire, 
and those they did not kill with their guns they crushed 
beneath them, manoeuvring about and trampling them down 
as they fell. It seems to have been as bloody a slaughter 
as anything in this war. So Villers-Bretonneux is a black 
name for Germans to-day. There are still German soldiers 
in the town, holding out with their nests of machine-guns, 
but they seem to be cut off, and we are working steadily 
through it, so that by to-night it is expected to be cleared 
of the last remaining enemy. If this is so it will be a hard 
and bad blow to the German High Command, who wanted 
this ground for further and bigger actions. 

Having been down on the Somme, I can only give the 
barest details of what has been happening up north in 
Flanders around Kemmel Hill, where French and British 
troops have been heavily engaged. 

The enemy has made strong attacks for the possession of 
Kemmel, which was defended by the French, and against 
Dranoutre, which is to the south-east of Kemmel, the idea 
being to put a pincers on the hill and then gain the line of 
ridges known as Mont Noir, Mont Rouge, and the Scher- 
penberg, which are of great importance in that flat land of 
Flanders. For a time the enemy seems to have made prog- 
ress, and it is now reported that he has reached the crest 
of Kemmel and the village of Dranoutre. If so that is 
grave news. 

He has no fewer than seven divisions in the line and in 
reserve opposite this part of the Front, including the Alpine 
Corps and the nth Bavarian Division, selected as mountain 
warriors for these molehills of Flanders, and the 56th 
Division, not previously engaged in any of the battles last 
month or this, and battalions of Jaegers. The main Ger- 
man thrust has come against the French up there in the 
north, and our left has, so far, only been lightly engaged. 


Out of all this intense fighting one thing is clear, and that 
is that the enemy is now making slow progress and that 
every attack is costing him an immense price. God knows 
how long he will fling his men into this massacre. 


The Hills of Flanders 

April 27 
It seems to me fairly certain now that, after being thwarted 
in the first stupendous efforts to drive between the French 
and British armies by the capture of Amiens and an ad- 
vance towards Abbeville, and again to smash the British 
Army by rolling us up from Givenchy to Arras, the enemy 
has decided to hurl a strong force northwards and to strike 
for the coast through Flanders. That, in my opinion, is 
the lesson to be learnt from the recent fighting between 
Bailleul and Wytschaete, working up on Thursday to 
furious assaults upon the Franco-British lines and the 
capture of Kemmel Hill. There cannot be much doubt 
as to the enemy's intention. Indeed, he has already re- 
vealed it, and a child familiar with the lie of the land in 
Flanders could tell what his next objectives would be. 
After the capture of Kemmel, which commands a wide 
tract of country south of Ypres, and his advance yesterday 
through Dranoutre to Locre, to the south-west of Kemmel, 
he will endeavour to pinch out the three remaining hills 
of the Scherpenberg, Mont Rouge, and Mont Noir, which 
dominate the ground south of Poperinghe. 

He was already feeling his way towards the Scherpen- 
berg yesterday afternoon, and pouring fire on that triplet 
of hills, until he was repulsed very bloodily for the time be- 
ing by French troops. But he will attack, and is attacking, 
with more furious efforts, in the hope that if that high 
ground falls into his hands the whole of the Ypres salient 


and the country around Poperinghe may become untenable. 
It is a big "if," which depends on the fortune of war and the 
result of efforts which have already cost the enemy a great 
price in men. As I said in my last message, the German 
main thrust on Thursday and Friday was directed against 
the French, who were defending Kemmel and Dranoutre, 
with British troops on their left and right. The Germans 
struck first on Thursday morning at the point of junction 
between the French and ourselves up by Maedelstede Farm, 
below the Petit Bois of Wytschaete, where on April 9 of 
last year, before the Battle of Wytschaete and Messines, 
we blew one of our largest mine craters with an explosion 
which was like an outbreak of a vast volcano, and left a 
yawning chasm there, down which afterwards men looked 
and shuddered. Here, and as far north as the ground 
between St.-Eloi and Vierstraat, were Scottish and British 
battalions, and then our line ran north-eastwards across the 
Ypres-Comines Canal past Hill 60 — the scene of another 
mine explosion last year and of many previous mines, so 
that all the ground here was upheaved — up to high ground 
by Westhoek Ridge. 

The German army of assault upon Kemmel and the sur- 
rounding country was under the command of General Sixt 
von Armin, who was our leading opponent in the long 
struggle of the first Somme battles, and whose clear and 
ruthless intelligence was revealed in the famous document 
summing up the first phase of that fighting, when he 
frankly confessed to many failures of organization and 
supply, but with an acute criticism which was not that of a 
weak or an indecisive man. He is a formidable antagonist 
to have against us now, and it is well to know this. 

Under his command as corps commanders were Generals 
Sieger and von Eberhardt, and they had picked troops, in- 
cluding Alpine Corps and strong Bavarian and Prussian 
divisions specially trained for assault in such country as that 
of Kemmel. Their plan of attack, to strike at the points 
of junction between the French and ourselves east of Kem- 


mel, and also at the French troops south of it near Dran- 
outre, proved for a time successful and by driving in wedges 
they were able to make us fall back on the flanks and en- 
circle Kemmel Hill after furious and heroic fighting by the 
French and our own troops. Our men of the 9th Divi- 
sion were in weak numbers compared with the strength 
brought against them. Their withdrawal to new lines of 
defence by Vierstraat, and the furious attacks at eleven 
o'clock yesterday morning across the Ypres-Comines Canal 
gave the enemy some ground in the region of St.-Eloi, the 
Bluff, and the spoil-bank on the canal itself. It is vil- 
lainous ground there, foul with the wreckage of old fight- 
ing, but to us out here who have followed this war from 
the beginning, the loss of any of it is saddening, because 
of so many memories of heroism and tragedy haunting each 
yard of earth. 

British troops and Canadian troops were put to a supreme 
test of courage to take and hold these places. Our glorious 
old 3rd Division, commanded in those days of 19 15 and 
1 91 6 by General Haldane, fought from St.-Eloi to the Bluff, 
month in and month out, and lost many gallant officers 
and men there after acts of courage which belong to his- 
tory. Their graves were marked by white crosses, which 
grew too fast in this strentch of barren and mangled earth. 
And I remember with what emotion we went about these 
places after the Battle of Wytschaete, when the enemy was 
hurled back, and it seemed as though an evil spell had been 
lifted from them. The Bluff is just a heap of earth piled 
up on the bank when the canal was dug. St.-Eloi, which 
the Germans still speak of as a village, has for years been 
nothing but a name and a muck-heap and linked pits made 
by big shell-bursts. 

One of the enemy's most desperate efforts was against 
the French in the village of Locre, north of Dranoutre, 
and below the old hill, of the Scherpenberg, where in days 
gone by distinguished visitors have stood to watch our 


shelling of Wytschaete, so that the wife of the miller, who 
was a chatty soul, had illustrious acquaintances, including 
kings and princes. 

Yesterday that hill was under intense fire, as for some 
days previously, when some friends of mine whom I met 
there last had very lucky and sensational escapes. When 
the Germans advanced through a gap at Dranoutre the 
French had terrible fighting in Locre, during which they 
inflicted frightful losses on the enemy. Before the assault 
on this village the enemy overwhelmed it with a bombard- 
ment and destroyed many houses which were still standing, 
though more than a week ago the streets were burning, 
as I saw them at the same time as Bailleul was in flames. 
German storm troops made three violent attacks on Locre, 
which were flung back by the French with heavy casualties 
among the enemy, and it was only at the fourth attempt, 
with fresh reserves, that they were able to enter the ruins 
of the village, from which the French then fell back in 
order to reorganize for the counter-attack. This they 
launched to-day at an early hour, and now Locre is in their 
hands, after close fighting in which they slew numbers of 
the enemy. 

After their success on Thursday, when they captured 
Kemmel, the Germans have made little progress, and though 
there was fierce fighting all day yesterday they failed to 
gain their objectives, and were raked by fire hour after 
hour, so that a large number of their dead lie on the field 
of battle. At four in the afternoon they engaged in a 
fresh assault upon our positions near Ridge Wood, to which 
we had fallen back, but English and Scottish troops of the 
2 ist, 25th, and 9th Divisions repulsed them and shattered 
their waves. It was a bad day for them, because of these 
great losses. We have broken the fighting quality of some 
of the enemy's most renowned regiments, so that they must 
be taken out and reorganized before they can come into 
battle again. 


There was no general action in Flanders yesterday, and 
to-day so far there is no extended battle, but the enemy has 
been engaging some of our outpost lines, and there has been 
local fighting of a severe nature against the French troops 
around Locre and ours round Vormezeele, which is a well- 
known halting place south of Ypres, and in the old days 
the ultimate spot to which our transport could go without 
certain destruction. Both these places have changed hands 
several times during the past two or three days, but Locre 
now seems to be with the French again. 

The Buffs and Berkshires fought hard to hold the Bluff, 
while between Vierstraat and Ridge Wood a gallant de- 
fence has been made by Scottish Rifles and South Africans 
and other troops against repeated German attacks. 

All the roads and camps around Ypres are under heavy 
harassing fire once more, and Ypres itself is being savagely 
bombarded by high-explosive and gas shells, so that after 
months of respite those poor ruins are again under that 
black spell which makes them the most sinister place in the 
world. "Suicide Corner" has come into its own again, 
and old unhealthy plague spots up by the canal are under 
fire. The enemy's guns are reaching out to fields and vil- 
lages hitherto untouched by fire, and these harassing shots, 
intended perhaps to catch the traffic on the roads or sol- 
diers' camps, often serve the enemy no more than by the 
death of innocent women and children. A day or two ago 
a monstrous shell fell just outside a little Flemish cottage, 
tucked away in an angle of the road, which I often pass, and 
scooped out a deep pit in the garden without even scarring 
the cottage walls. But two children were playing in the 
garden, and they were laid dead beside the flower bed. 

Along the line the enemy's losses in this continual fight- 
ing have been severe, and we have been able to get the 
actual figures of some of their casualties, which are typical 
of the more general effect of our fire. 

One company of the 7th German Division, which fought 


at St.-Eloi on Friday, has only forty men remaining out 
of its full strength of 120. The 4th Ersatz Division has 
lost most heavily, and a prisoner of the 279th Pioneer 
Company, which relieved the 360th Regiment of that divi- 
sion, says that the average company strength was fifteen. 
An entire regimental staff was killed by a direct hit of one 
of our shells on their headquarters dug-out near Cantieux. 
The same thing has happened to the battalion headquarters 
of the 223rd Regiment, which is now in a state of low 
moral, having been fearfully cut up. The 1st Guards 
Reserve Regiment, of the 1st Guards Division, which was 
much weakened in the fighting on the Somme, and was 
afterwards sent to La Bassee, lost thirty-six officers, includ- 
ing the regimental commander and one battalion com- 

These losses are affecting inevitably the outlook of the 
German troops on the prospects of their continued offensive. 
Prisoners from divisions which have suffered most, con- 
fess that they have no further enthusiasm for fighting, 
and their regiments can only be made to attack by stern 
discipline and the knowledge that they must fight on or be 
shot for desertion. 

On the other hand, the best German troops, especially 
those now attacking us in Flanders, like the Alpine Corps 
and the nth Bavarian Division, are elated and full of 
warlike spirit, and even their prisoners profess to believe 
that they are winning the war, and will have a German 
peace before the year is out. The enemy's state of mind 
is largely dependent on shell-fire. Fresh divisions newly 
brought up are proud and optimistic and fierce in attack, 
but after two or three days' hammering by our great gun- 
fire their optimism falls from them, and they become 
gloomy prophets and the horror of war closes down on 
them. Most of their gaps due to casualties are being filled 
up by the 19 19 class. These young boys are unable, so 
far, to bear the strain of bombardments, and they break 
very easily under their terror and shock. 


Apart from the righting in Flanders there was an im- 
portant little action on Friday at Givenchy, where some of 
our troops made an attack in the afternoon on a 700 yards' 
line of old craters formerly in our front line, east and 
north-east of Givenchy village. German possession of these 
pits is annoying to our men, because the enemy has observa- 
tion of our positions from crater lips and snipes us with 
rifle and indirect machine-gun fire. The bottoms of the 
pits are dry, and although the enemy has to approach them 
overland, through boggy places, he has good cover and 
room for assembly when he gets into them and into the old 
mining galleries which lead from them. Our men, on 
Thursday night, had already raided the German trenches 
south of Givenchy village, and under protection of the bar- 
rage killed a number of the enemy and brought back prison- 
ers. On Friday our troops captured the craters after hard 
fighting, and sent back fifty prisoners, mostly wounded; 
but the 1st Guards' Division counter-attacked immediately 
and there was severe fighting until darkness, when our men 
withdrew, after smashing up the German defensive system. 

The artillery on both sides is bombarding heavily in this 
sector, and our guns have inflicted terrible casualties by fire 
on German troops and transport behind their lines. 

Meanwhile the storm clouds of battle are gathering stead- 
ily in Flanders, rather than on these southern sectors, and 
it is there in my opinion that other great actions may be 
expected. The French are with us there in strength, and 
the appearance of these blue-coats, older on the average 
than our boys, harder-looking because of their moustaches 
and their more solid figures, imperturbable under the 
harassing fire that is being flung about the roads and fields, 
continues our confidence that we shall break the enemy 
yet. I have been to-day and yesterday among these French 
troops, and have seen, or fancied I saw, upon the roads 
old friends of mine, or the spirit of those old friends, the 
gallant D'Artagnan and the elegant Aramis, and the noble 
Athos and Porthos, who loved good fighting and good 


wine, for the old types of France are here among our 
khaki lads, the old gallantry of a fighting race, the senti- 
ment and the soul of France. 

Many of these men are dirty and dusty after long forced 
marches, but one sees fine gentlemen among them, unshaven 
but with a beautiful courtesy, and the true descendants of 
such men as Le Balaf re, whom Quentin Durward knew, and 
of Bertrand du Guesclin, who was sans peur et sans 

April 26 
It was not pleasant in Flanders this morning. I went up 
there, after yesterday on the Somme, to get details of the 
French and British fighting round Kemmel, and I am 
bound to say that though I have seen Flanders in every kind 
of foul weather I have never seen it more sinister-looking, 
more utterly evil in atmosphere and spiritual effect, than 
it was to-day. Thick wet fog enveloped all the flat fields 
like the London "particular" at its worst, and French and 
British columns, with their transport and guns, moved 
through it like ghosts in shadow- world. 

On to the Mont des Cats, that high hill on our side of 
Kemmel, upon which and round which by Boeschepe and 
Dickebusch and Godewaersvelde and Westoutre — strange 
names to you, but as familiar as Clapham Junction or Peck- 
ham Rye or the Old Kent Road to all our soldiers out here 
— the enemy has been scattering heavy shells and flinging 
harassing fire. Over all their fields was wreathed round 
with clouds of fog, through which the great old monastery 
where Trappist monks used to live in silence before the 
tumult of war surrounded them in the autumn of the first 
year of war, loomed vaguely like a mediaeval castle. Roads 
down which we used to go with an admirable sense of 
safety, even when the Ypres salient was full of menace — 
alas, the menace has come again — bore signs to-day of re- 
cent and horrid happenings. Little wooden houses built by 
refugees from Ypres after the day of terror there in April 


191 5, and filled wit^h stores which our troops used to buy 
on the way past had been knocked to matchwood by shell- 
fire, and all about them were deep shell-holes newly made, 
with that beastly freshness which warns one that others 
may come. All the fields for miles around were punctured 
by pits made by German shells. It was yesterday that the 
enemy's gunners flung about most of these shells. They 
had a kind of devil's orgy of shelling, and scattered high 
explosives any old where without aim or object except that 
of harassing the whole region. They turned long-range 
guns on to villages far behind the lines to catch an old 
woman or two or smash up an infants' school. They fired 
off the map at poor old Poperinghe again — "Pop," as we 
call it by long familiarity, with its tall spired church and 
Grande Place and narrow streets — and they put high ex- 
plosives into Westoutre and made targets of "Bosheep" 
and "Gerty Wears Velvet," which, by those who can pro- 
nounce them, are called Boeschepe and Godewaersvelde. 

All this was just the gentle embroidery of the decorative 
scheme of death which had been planned for the central 
plan round Kemmel Hill. Kemmel Hill was held by the 
French, as I have previously told — those gallant men who 
came up so quickly to our relief when we needed them, and 
took their places in the line without delay after long 
marches. On the left of them yesterday were Scottish 
and English battalions. After several attempts against 
Kemmel, frustrated, as I recorded at the time, the enemy 
went all out yesterday to capture this position. Four divi- 
sions at least, including the Alpine Corps, the nth Bava- 
rians, the 56th, and 170th, were moved against Kemmel in 
the early morning fog after a tremendous bombardment 
of the Franco-British positions. It was a bombardment 
that began before the first glimmer of dawn, like one of 
those which we used to arrange in the days of our great 
Flanders battles last year. It came down swamping Kem- 
mel Hill, so that it was like one volcano and stretching away 


on to our lines on the left of the French by Maedelstede 
Farm and Grand Bois down to Vierstraat. 

Then German infantry attacked in depth battalion behind 
battalion, division behind division, and their mountain 
troops, of the Alpine Corps and Jaegers and Bavarians, 
came on first in the assault of Kemmel Hill, which is not 
much more than a hillock, though it looms large in Flan- 
ders and in this war. 

The French had suffered a terrible ordeal of fire, and the 
main thrust of the German strength was against them. 
The enemy struck in two directions to encircle the hill and 
village of Kemmel, one arrow-head striking to Dranoutre 
and the other at the point of the junction between the 
French and British northwards. In each case, favoured 
by fog and the effect of their gun-fire, they were able to 
drive in a wedge, which they pushed forward until they 
had caused gaps. The French on Kemmel Hill became 
isolated, and there was a gulf between us and the French, 
and between the French left and right. On the hill the 
French garrison fought with splendid heroism. These men, 
when quite surrounded, would not yield, but served their 
machine-guns and rifles for many hours, determined to 
hold the position at all costs and to the death. Small 
parties of them on the west of the hill held out until mid- 
day or beyond, according to reports of our airmen, who flew 
low over them ; but by nine o'clock in the morning, owing 
to gaps made by the enemy, the main French line was 
compelled to draw back from Kemmel. They inflicted 
severe losses on the enemy as they fell back, and thwarted 
his efforts to break their line on new defensive positions. 

Meanwhile a body of our Scottish troops of the 9th 
Division were seriously involved. Some of their officers 
whom I saw to-day tell me that the fog was so thick — as on 
March 21 — that after a terrific bombardment the first thing 
known at some points a little way behind the line was when 
the Germans were all round them. 

One officer I know was sleeping after an all-night vigil, 


when he heard German voices and rifle shots, and jumped 
out of his dug-out to see the Germans on the side of a little 
stream, only a few yards away. He was on the same side 
of this brook, and they could have grabbed him by one 
pounce, but he leapt across the stream, and by some wonder- 
ful luck escaped their sniping shots and got away. Royal 
Scots and Black Watch fought hard, and did not yield 
ground until the price had been paid for it. The enemy 
seems to have paid his usual price, which is not cheap. A 
machine-gun officer whom I know well tells me that one 
section fired i ioo rounds at massed bodies of Germans who 
were checked against our wire, and they fell in heaps. 
This friend of mine himself had fearful experiences yester- 
day after many heroic days before, but his great grief 
is that his horse, which he has had out in this war since 
19 14, was killed by a shell. 

The Camerons fought like tigers yesterday. For some 
little time they had not come in actual touch with the 
enemy, but yesterday they had this chance, and made the 
most of it. They were heavily attacked in the morning 
up in the neighbourhood of the Damstrasse — that street 
of concrete shelters which I described last year, when we 
captured it in the battles of Flanders. From eleven o'clock 
in the morning until half -past five in the evening they 
kept this position, killing the enemy waves every time they 
tried to advance. It was decided to withdraw our line to 
Vierstraat, and orders were sent up to the Camerons to 
conform to this, but the message did not reach them for 
some time, and they still went on fighting for three hours 
more, or at least until after eight o'clock, when they fell 
back to join up with the rest of the line. All the afternoon 
and evening the enemy endeavoured to smash through the 
line established by Vierstraat to Beaver Corner, but Scots 
and English repelled him with heavy losses, and the Black 
Watch made a fierce counter-attack, in which they took 
fifty-six prisoners. 

A combined counter-attack of French and British troops 


was made this morning when English battalions advanced 
from the north, and after gallant efforts gained an entry 
into Kemmel village, and sent back a considerable number 
of prisoners, whom I met this morning on their way back. 
They were a good-looking body of troops, some of them 
very tall men and belonging to picked regiments of Alpine 
and Bavarian divisions. But they had a worn and haggard 
look, and many of them marched as though dazed by their 
day and night of fighting. Unfortunately our battalions 
of the 25th Division who entered Kemmel village came un- 
der wicked machine-gun fire, and could not maintain their 
hold on the recaptured ground, though they did not lose 
all of it, and I believe they are still further than their 
original line last night. The French on our right were 
unable to make substantial progress. This situation in 
Flanders is still serious, and the enemy may endeavour to 
exploit his advance at Kemmel by a great concentration of 
strength and more violent attacks. But the French Army, 
as well as ours, is now barring his way, and all our men 
have intense confidence in the superb regiments of France 
who are now fighting with us. I saw thousands of them 
to-day in the fields and farms and village^, and the spirit 
of these sturdy men seemed to disperse some of the gloomy 
fog about them and uplift one's heart. For they have the 
look of great soldiers, hard and fined down by these years 
of war, and they are inspired by a most grim resolve. The 
people of Northern France, who have not seen much of 
their men for three years, greet them with cries of Bonne 
chance! and wave their hands to them from cottage doors. 

And now I must add a few words about the situation 
down south at Villers-Bretonneux, which I described yes- 
terday at some length. I told how pockets of German 
machine-gunners were still fighting in that village. Last 
night these were all routed out, and all the village is now 
in our hands, and our Australian troops have joined up the 
gap which existed for a time between them. 

There is no doubt that I under-estimated the losses of the 


enemy yesterday. The Australians say they have never 
seen so many German dead, except at Polygon Wood, 
where there was a massacre of the enemy. Our light 
Tanks, which got among two battalions near Cachy, slaugh- 
tered whole companies as though they were Juggernauts, 
sweeping the enemy with fire before they could attempt to 
disperse, and trampling them down. It was a ghastly 
business, and these Tanks when they came back had to be 
cleansed of their blood. The Tanks employed by the 
enemy yesterday are heavier than ours, and, according to 
Australians, seem to be about 36 feet long, 12 feet high, 
and 12 feet broad, with a central turret. Their caterpillar 
tracks pass round several pairs of wheels, and they look 
like enormous turtles or inverted basins. But they are 
very slow. One of them bore on its steel shield the emblem 
of the skull and crossbones, and another carried the name 
of Cyclops. They are armed with a small gun, about 2- 
inch calibre, and some six machine-guns. They seem to 
have been handled by scratch crews, who had not been 
trained with them, and owing to the secrecy with which 
these Tanks were enveloped, no German infantry had seen 
one of them before, and were untrained in fighting with 
them. Two of them fled at once when encountered by 
ours, but our troops were unable to get possession of them. 
Many of the prisoners speak with disgust of their com- 
mand in ordering the attack on Villers-Bretonneux without 
sufficient artillery support, and they say they suffered 
hideously from gas, with which we soaked the village after 
their capture of it. They were utterly surprised by our 
counter-attack, and some of them were got in cellars, while 
still ignorant of their change of fortune. The most intel- 
ligent of these prisoners all show signs of uneasiness about 
the future of the German offensive, and do not disguise 
that, in spite of the gain of ground, they are uncertain of 
ultimate victory, and speak like men who see some dark 
omens ahead. They are puzzled by the failure of the 
U-boat war to stop American transports, and when asked 


why that was so, said, very simply, 'That is exactly what 
we want to know." There were other things they wanted 
to know, and because they do not know they have black 

April 29 
It becomes clearer every hour that the enemy has suffered 
a disastrous defeat to-day. Attack after attack has been 
smashed up by our artillery and infantry of the 21st, 25th, 
and 49th Divisions, and he has not made a foot of ground 
on the British front. 

The Border Regiment of the 25th Division this morning 
repulsed four heavy assaults on the Kemmel — La-Clytte 
road, where there was extremely hard fighting, and de- 
stroyed the enemy each time. One of the enemy's main 
thrusts was between the Scherpenberg and Mont Rouge, 
where they made a wedge for a time and captured the 
cross-roads, and it was here that a gallant French counter- 
attack swept them back. 

We had no more than a post or two in Voormezeele this 
morning, and the enemy was there in greater strength and 
sent his storm troops through this place, but was never able 
to advance against the fire of our English battalions. His 
losses began yesterday when his troops were seen massing 
on the road between Zillebeke and Ypres in dense fog, 
through which he attempted to make a surprise attack. 
This was observed by our low-flying planes, and his as- 
sembly was shattered by our gun-fire. After fierce shelling 
all night, so tremendous along the whole northern front 
that the countryside was shaken by its tumult, German 
troops again assembled in the early morning mist, but were 
caught once more in our bombardment. At three o'clock 
a tremendous barrage was flung down by German gunners 
from Ypres to Bailleul, and later they began the battle by 
launching the first attack between Zillebeke Lake and 
Meteren. South of Ypres they crossed the Yser Canal 
by Lock 8 near Voormezeele, which was their direction 


of attack againsi. us, while they tried to drive up past 
Locre against the French on the three hills. 

Our successful defence has made the day most bloody 
for many German regiments. 

There was violent and widespread gun-fire all last night 
from the enemy's batteries, from the Belgian front down 
through Flanders to the districts about Bethune, and this 
morning the German bombardment intensified to heights 
of fury all round Ypres, and upon our lines near Voor- 
mezeele and Vierstraat, and against the French front west 
of Kemmel Hill to the country south of Dranoutre, where 
British troops join them again. Then began, at about six 
o'clock this morning, that attack which was the inevitable 
plan of General Sixt von Armin after the capture of Kem- 
mel Hill That is, an attempt in strong force to gain the 
chain of hillocks running westwards below Ypres and 
Poperinghe, and known to all of us as familiar land- 
marks — the Scherpenberg, Mont Rouge, and Mont Noir. 

These hills, forming the Central Keep as it were in our 
defensive lines south of Ypres, are held by the French, and 
are of great tactical importance at the present moment, so 
that the enemy covets them and is ready to sacrifice thou- 
sands of men to get them. In order to turn them if frontal 
attacks failed against the French, German storm troops — 
they are now called grosskampf, or great offensive troops 
— were to break the British lines on the French left be- 
tween Locre and Voormezeele, and on the French right 
near Merris and Meteren. That obviously was the inten- 
tion of the German High Command this morning, judg- 
ing from their direction of assault. So far they have 
failed utterly. They have failed up to this afternoon to 
break or bend the British wings on the French centre, 
and they have failed to capture the hills or any one of them 
defended by French divisions. They have attacked again 
and again since this morning's dawn, heavy forces of Ger- 
man infantry being sent forward after their first waves 
against the Scherpenberg and Voormezeele, which lies to 


the east of Dickebusch Lake, but these men have been 
slaughtered by French and British fire, and have made no 
important progress at any point. 

For a time the situation seemed critical at one or two 
points, and it was reported that the Germans had been seen 
storming the slopes of Mont Rouge and Mont Noir, but one 
of our airmen flew over those hills at 200 feet above their 
crests and could see no German infantry near them. 

Round about Voormezeele North Country and other 
English battalions of the 49th Division, which had been 
fighting marvellously for many days in the attacks on 
Neuve Eglise, had to sustain determined and furious efforts 
of Alpine and Bavarian troops to drive through them by 
weight of numbers after hours of intense bombardment, 
but our men held their ground and inflicted severe punish- 
ment upon the enemy. All through the day the German 
losses have been heavy under field-gun and machine-gun 
fire, and our batteries alongside the French 75 's swept 
down the enemy's advancing waves and his assemblies in 
support at short range. There is no doubt that the French 
guarding the three hills have fought with extreme valour 
and skill. For a brief period the Germans were apparently 
able to draw near and take some ground near Locre, but 
an immediate counter-attack was organized by the French 
general, and the line of French troops swung forward and 
swept the enemy back. Further attacks by the Germans 
north of Ypres and on the Belgian front was repulsed easily, 
and again the enemy lost many men. The battle continues, 
but the first phase of it has been decided in our favour, and 
it has been another day of sacrifice for the German regi- 
ments, who one by one, as they come up fresh to reinforce 
their battle-line, lose a high percentage of their strength in 
this continuing slaughter. 

The German High Command still has many divisions 
untouched, but their turn will come, and if, as to-day, they 
are spent without great gain, the enemy's plans of a decisive 
victory will be thwarted for ever. There is a limit even to 


German man-power, and surely to God their people will tire 
of making these fields of France and Flanders the grave- 
yard of their youth. This frenzy must pass from them and 
from our stricken world when the truth comes home to 
them at last. 

April 30 
Good news travels as fast as bad out here, and yesterday 
evening, as well as this morning, in Flanders there were 
general expressions of gladness behind the lines because the 
enemy's fierce attacks had been utterly crushed. 

"The enemy took the knock yesterday," said a staff 
officer, who had been working all that day and most of the 
night, but was in high spirits this morning. 

"Some of his best divisions," said another, "have got 
badly chipped against a hard wall," and then he said, with 
a queer laugh, "the dirty dogs." 

Good words were said about our own divisions who bore 
the brunt of this fighting — the 21st, the 49th, and the 25th 
— all of whom have had much hard work of late, and have 
been sticking it out in one battle after another. 

There are Northumberland and other troops in the 21st 
Division, and the 49th Division contains mostly Yorkshire 
troops, who have done some stubborn fighting since April 
9, and helped to retake Neuve Eglise no fewer than four 
times in the bitter struggle for that place on the east side 
of Bailleul. 

The 25th Division are the men who fought grim rear- 
guard actions when the enemy broke through the Portu- 
guese, and with our 50th Division and others, held on to the 
last possible hours on the Lys and by Neuf Berquin and up 
by Steenwerck, when the enemy came driving ahead in his 
first bull rush for Armentieres and Bailleul. 

Many civilians as well as soldiers had heard the news 
last night, and it meant much to them — the difference be- 
tween quick flight from places menaced by any new Ger- 
man advance and a chance of staying in their homes, the 


difference between a long trek to an unknown country, 
leaving all their little property behind them, and the hope, 
at least, of clinging on to their farms and homesteads on 
the edge of war. ... I walked out last evening to a place 
from which one can see the long sweep of our Flemish 
battlefields round Ypres to Bailleul. There below me were 
outspread all the long, straight roads with avenues of 
poplars which I have been travelling these three and a half 
years past, and the neat fields of Flanders, with red-tiled 
cottages and church spires and orchards white with blos- 
som, and old windmills, whose sails have turned to the 
wind of many centuries. 

This countryside was designed for peace and the sowing 
and reaping of grain, but since the war began the horizon 
has been on fire beyond it, and last night this shell-fire was 
bursting close, in fields untouched before by any steel un- 
kinder than the plough, and along roads which until a week 
or two ago were safe highways this side of Poperinghe 
and Ypres. 

A Flemish woman stood by her cottage wall staring out 
upon the scene as though searching for any sign which 
might give her hope. Her eyes were sombre, and she had 
such a tragic look that she seemed to me a typical figure 
of Flemish womanhood looking out towards the battle-line 
which has drawn closer to their lives, so that many of them 
have been caught up in it or have fled from its engulfing 

Down below her, a few hundred yards away, was the 
ruin of a small house smashed to matchwood the night 
before. German shells were bursting with heavy clump- 
ing noises in hamlets near by, and our guns in the fields 
below were flashing and winking through the evening mists, 
and all the sky caught up the thunderous rumblings of great 
drumfire away beyond the Mont des Cats and the Scher- 

"Have the Germans still possession of Mont Kemmel?" 
asked the peasant woman, and I said, "Yes, but they have 


been defeated to-day." "That is good news," she said. 
"Perhaps we shall be able to stay here after all. They 
tell me the French have driven them out of Locre again." 

In England this news will seem good. People will say, 
"We seem to have done well yesterday." But out here it 
means more than that to people whose lives and homes are 
threatened by any German advance. To them every act in 
this frightful drama is enormously significant, and every 
place which strangers puzzle out on the map is to them a 
village where they lived as children, where their sisters 
or children dwell or where they have left all their proper- 
ties. I write these things because they humanize map 
names, and show how the valour of men is the safeguard 
of the folk on the edge of the fighting-fields. It was the 
valour of Frenchmen as well as Englishmen which yester- 
day inflicted defeat upon many German divisions, and the 
Allies fought side by side, and their batteries fired from 
the same fields, and their wounded came back along the 
same roads, and khaki and blue lay out upon the same 
brown earth. 

I have already given an outline of yesterday's battle, 
how, after a colossal bombardment, the German attack 
begun early in the morning from north of Ypres to the 
south of Voormezeele, where English battalions held the 
lines, and from La-Clytte past the three hills — the Scher- 
penberg, Mont Rouge, and Mont Noir — which French 
troops held, to the north of Meteren, where the English 
joined them again; how the English lines held firm against 
desperate assaults until late in the evening; and how the 
enemy made a great thrust against the French, driving in 
for a time between the Scherpenberg and Mont Noir until 
flung back by the French counter-attack. 

It was here, by Hyde Park Corner, that a very gallant 
action was done by an officer of a French regiment. The 
enemy had driven in a wedge at ten minutes past ten, and 
was on the southern slopes of Scherpenberg, where small 
parties of Germans were endeavouring to secure a footing. 


By 12.30 in the afternoon the French line was still intact 
northwards, but had slightly withdrawn towards Scherpen- 
berg and Mont Rouge when the situation was dangerous 
though not critical. 

A counter-attack was being prepared by the French Head- 
quarters Staff, but was unnecessary, owing to the fine 
initiative of regimental officers who realized the position 
locally and dealt with it without waiting for supports. 
One of them gathered some of his men together, and at 
about 5.30 in the afternoon said, "Eh, bien, mes enfants, 
suivez moi!" and led these little groups of "Poilus" in a 
quick attack against the German machine-guns and outposts 
holding Hyde Park Corner. They went forward with 
fixed bayonets, their steel helmets thrust back from their 
foreheads, and hoarse cheers and shouts, following the 
officer who led them. At Hyde Park Corner many Ger- 
mans fell, and the rest fled. 

An action as gallant as this, very like it in idea and 
execution, was done by another French officer with a group 
of picked men in Locre. That village, where I have been 
held up scores of times in the traffic which used to surge 
round the corners by the church and our officers' club and 
divisional headquarters, was yesterday a charred ruin, with 
shell-broken streets littered with dead, in which German 
machine-gunners hid and kept up a chattering fire, very 
deadly to face by men fighting into the village. 

During the past week Locre has changed hands several 
times, and yesterday at least four times again. The French 
infantry were forced to retire under pressure of the Ger- 
man assaults, but each time they came back again with 
grim determination to remain and rout their enemy out. 
All day there was this struggle, small bodies of men with 
machine-guns and rifles fighting against each other under 
the cover of walls and barricades of timber. In the eve- 
ning the enemy was in possession again, but did not have 
lodgings for the night there. 

A French officer, like that other one at Hyde Park Cor- 


ner, gathered some hard fellows about him, and said, 
"Now let us take back Locre before it is too dark." They 
worked their way through the village right to the other 
side of it, kiKing some of the enemy and taking some 
prisoners, and then, just to show that Locre was very 
much theirs, walked down the road to Dranoutre, and 
only stopped when they met their own barrage-line of 
bursting shells. 

In the night the French, who had now regained all the 
ground that had been temporarily in the enemy's hands, 
made a general counter-attack and succeeded in advancing 
their line to a depth of about 1500 yards beyond the line 
of the three hills, which thereby are made more secure 
against future assaults. 

Meanwhile throughout the day English battalions had 
been sustaining heavy asaults and breaking the enemy 
against their front. The Leicesters especially, with the 
Lincolns and Yorks of the 21st Division, had fierce fighting 
about Voormezeele, where, as I told yesterday, the enemy 
was in the centre of the village. 

German storm troops advanced against our men here and 
along other parts of the line with fixed bayonets, but in 
most places, except at Voormezeele, where there was close 
fighting, they were mown down by Lewis gun-fire before 
they could get near. Line after line of them came on, but 
lost heavily and fell back. 

Over the ground east of Dickebusch Lake the West 
Yorks and the Yorks and Lanes of the 49th Division saw 
these groups of field-grey men advancing upon them and 
the glint of their bayonets, wet in the morning mist, and 
swept them with bullets from Lewis guns and rifles until 
many bodies were lying out there on the mud flats in the 
old Ypres salient. 

The most determined assaults were concentrated upon 
the 25th Division, but it held firm and would not budge, 
though the men had been under fearful fire in the night 


bombardment, and their machine-gunners kept their trig- 
gers pressed, and bullets played upon the advancing Ger- 
mans like a garden hose. The troops in the whole division 
yielded not a yard of ground, and they hold that they killed 
as many Germans as any battalions in this battle, which 
was a black day for Germany. 

More than ten German divisions, probably thirteen, seem 
to have been engaged in this attempt to smash our lines and 
encircle the three hills. They included some of the enemy's 
finest divisions, so that they have lost quality as well as 
quantity in this futile sacrifice of man-power — man-power 
which seems to mean nothing in flesh and blood and heart 
and soul to men like Ludendorff, but is treated as material 
force, like guns and ammunition, and used as cannon- 

Some of our brigades saw the German Red Cross at work 
during the day coming close behind the lines with their 
wagons flying the burning emblem of love — a frightful 
irony on the field of battle, except for the devotion of the 
men who labour under this sign of truce — and with crowds 
of stretcher-bearers who went a-gleaning on those muddy 
fields. They had a great harvest of wounded. 

To-day again I have been among thousands of French 
soldiers, and it is splendid to see them because of their fine 
bearing. They are men in the prime of life, not so young 
as some of ours, and with a graver look than one sees on 
our boys' faces when they have not yet reached the zone 
of fire. They are men who have seen all that war means 
during these years of agony and hope and boredom and 
death. They have no illusions. They stare into the face 
of truth unflinchingly and shrug their shoulders at its worst 
menace, and still have faith in victory. So I read them, 
if any man may read, the thoughts that lie behind those 
bronzed faces with dark eyes and upturned moustaches, 
under the blue painted helmets or black tarn o' shanter. 
They are not gay or boisterous in their humour, and they 


do not sing like our men as they march, but they seem to 
have been born to this war, and its life is their life, and 
they are professionals. 

There are wonderful pictures as they pass everywhere, 
and if I were an artist instead of a writing man my fingers 
would itch for pencil or brush to draw these groups, these 
columns on the march, these splendid types of France. 
Some of their horses are lean and long-tailed like those in 
the battle pictures of Detaille, and many of their transport 
wagons are spider-wheeled below their blue boards, and 
frail compared with our own lorries. The gunners who 
ride behind their batteries thrust their hands deep into the 
pockets of their long blue overcoats, and have their rifles 
slung behind their backs, and on the gun-limbers behind 
heavy howitzers, or long-barrelled high-velocity fellows, or 
the dainty little soixante-quinze, which kills men delicately 
and with artistry, three fellows sit hunched together, with 
their heads nodding after an all-night march, or staring 
with curious eyes at our transport and traffic. Across the 
guns themselves men sit astraddle, and I saw one fellow 
to-day, a handsome fellow with an actor's face, reading 
a book of poetry in this position, oblivious of the world 
of fact about him. In any marching column or in any 
field where French troops are halted there is always a 
wagon with wine barrels, for the "Poilu" has a daily ration 
of wine, and his spirits rise at the journey's end when he 
washes down his parched and dusty throat with a drop of 
"Pinard," as he calls it in his slang. The tricolour passes 
along the roads of France and Flanders, and French 
trumpets ring out across the flat fields below the Scherpen- 
berg, and all the spirit of French fighting men, who have 
proved themselves great soldiers in this war, as for a 
thousand years of history, is mingled with our own bat- 
talions, and our men exchange Virginia cigarettes for 
Caporals. Together yesterday they gave the German army 
a hard knock. 


May i 
The Germans are quiet in their lines since they were re- 
pulsed so utterly in their attacks against the Scherpenberg 
and our lines round Ypres. Even their guns were not very 
active last night and to-day. They are burying their dead 
and getting back their wounded, and taking broken divi- 
sions out of the line to replace them with fresh troops for 
another battle. I believe that will happen, because now 
that the enemy has Kemmel Hill his temptation to seize 
the three hills below is predominant, and there is no doubt 
that he will again risk the loss of many men to gain these 
positions. From the political point of view Ypres is also 
a lure to him, and there would be a great blowing of 
trumpets in Germany if their troops could capture that city 
of the salient, which, as a name and a ruin, is a great shrine 
of the British Army in this war. Now that the French 
are with us to strengthen our own defensive power, which 
has sustained such furious onslaughts by over ioo German 
divisions since six weeks ago, the next battle in Flanders 
may not give the enemy any further ground than the day 
before yesterday, which was nothing at all, and it is certain 
anyhow that not a yard of it will be yielded until the next 
waves of German soldiers have paid great sums of life. 

In the last battle two additional divisions have now been 
identified as having been put in against the British front in 
Flanders, one being the 117th near Voormezeele, and the 
other the 3rd Guards Division, including the Maikaefer, 
or Cockchafers, whom Welsh regiments shattered at Pil- 
kem last year, and who have fought against us in the Cam- 
brai salient. Last night when, no doubt, German reliefs 
were in progress, our guns turned loose with shrapnel 
and high explosives upon the transport, and troops crowd- 
ing the track from Vierstraat to Wytschaete, and this 
morning the enemy had more dead to bury. So the slaugh- 
ter goes on. 

During a rare day without great news there is an op- 
portunity of writing a few words about some of our bat- 


talions who in the earlier fighting during these recent bat- 
tles were wonderful in courage and endurance and self- 
sacrifice, but have not yet appeared in our narratives, be- 
cause, for the time, it was inadvisable to mention their 
presence in our battle-line. They are battalions of the 
Guards. There is no need for secrecy now because the 
enemy met them at close quarters, and knows how these 
men fought — sometimes in small bodies almost to the last 

The recent history of the Guards begins with the Battle 
of Arras on March 28, when the 56th (London) Division 
and the 15th (Scottish), and the grand old 3rd Division 
made such a wonderful stand against one of the biggest 
efforts of the enemy. 

On the 28th and the 30th the Guards were heavily at- 
tacked, and beat off the enemy's storm troops with exceed- 
ingly great losses to them, the Grenadiers making a counter- 
attack near Boileux St.-Marc with fixed bayonets, flinging 
the enemy back from the ground they had gained. But 
later than that battalions of Guards have been fighting in 
the North, around the Forest of Nieppe and between 
Lepinette and Vieux Berquin. That was from April 11 
to 14, after the Germans had broken through the Portu- 
guese line and, with the full weight of their forces, en- 
deavoured to widen the gap — did, indeed, widen the gap, 
pushing up between Armentieres and Merville by gaining 
the crossings of the Lys. Grenadier, Irish, and Cold- 
stream Guards were sent forward along the Hazebrouck- 
Estaires road when the situation was at its worst, when the 
men of our 15th Division and other units had fought 
themselves out in continual rear-guard and holding actions, 
so that some of those still in the line could hardly walk or 
stand, and when it was utterly necessary to keep the Ger- 
mans in check until a body of Australian troops had time 
to arrive. The Guards were asked to hold back the enemy 
until those Australians came, and to fight at all costs for 
forty-eight hours against the German tide of men and guns 


which was attempting to flow round our other hard-pressed 
men. And that is what the Guards did. Fighting in 
separate bodies, with the enemy pressing in on both flanks, 
greatly outnumbered, they beat back attack after attack 
and gained precious hours — vital hours — by the most noble 
self-sacrifice. A party of Grenadiers were so closely sur- 
rounded that their officer sent back a message, saying, 
"My men are standing back to back shooting on all sides." 
The Germans swung round them, circling them with 
machine-guns and rifles, and pouring fire into them until 
only eighteen men were left. Those eighteen, standing 
among their wounded and their dead, did not surrender. 
The Army wanted forty-eight hours. They fixed bayonets 
and went out against the enemy and drove through him. 
A wounded corporal of the Grenadiers who afterwards got 
back to our lines lay in a ditch, and the last he saw of his 
comrades was when fourteen men of them were still fight- 
ing in a swarm of Germans. 

The Coldstream Guards were surrounded in the same 
way, and fought in the same way. The Army had asked 
for forty-eight hours until the Australians could come, 
and many of the Coldstreamers eked out the time with their 
lives. The enemy filtered in on their flanks, came crawling 
round them with machine-guns, sniped them from short 
range, raked them from ditches and upheaved earth. The 
Coldstream Guards had to fall back, but they fought back 
in small groups, facing all ways, making gaps in the enemy 
ranks, not firing wildly, but using every round of small- 
arms ammunition to keep a German back and gain a little 
more time. One private of the Coldstreamers remained 
in an outpost until every one of his comrades was dead or 
wounded, and for twenty minutes after that — twenty 
minutes of those forty-eight hours — kept the Germans 
back with his rifle until he was killed by a bomb. Forty- 
eight hours is a long time in a war like this. For two days 
and nights the Guards stemmed the tide of the enemy's 


The Irish Guards, who had come up to support the 
Grenadiers and Coldstreamers, tried to make a defensive 
flank, but the enemy worked past their right and attacked 
them on two sides. The Irish Guards were gaining time. 
They knew that was all they could do — just drag out the 
hours by buying each minute with their blood. One man 
fell, and then another, but minutes were gained, and 
quarter-hours, and hours. Small parties of them lowered 
their bayonets and went out among the grey wolves, swarm- 
ing round them, and killed a number of them until they also 
fell. First one party and then another of these Irish 
Guards made those bayonet charges against men with 
machine-guns and volleys of rifle-fire. They bought time 
at a high price, but they did not stint themselves nor stop 
their bidding because of its costliness. The Brigade of 
Guards here near Vieux Berquin held out for those forty- 
eight hours, and some of them were fighting still when the 
Australians arrived according to the time-table. 

I have told the story briefly and baldly, though every word 
I have written holds the thread of a noble and tragic 
episode. One day some soldier of the Guards will write 
it as he lived through it, and that saving of forty-eight 
hours outside the Forest of Nieppe shall never be for- 


The French in Flanders 

May 3 
I went yesterday among some of the French troops who 
on April 29 inflicted a severe defeat on Sixt von Armin's 
storm troops between Dranoutre and Locre — when our own 
divisions to the north and south shared the honour of the 
day with them — and before that for six days in front of 
Kemmel Hill held their lines with most noble courage under 
a frightful fire that hardly ever slackened when Kemmel 


had been turned and captured, and these men whom I met 
were almost surrounded, so that they had to fight with long 
enduring devotion, with great sacrifices, to maintain their 

It is a moving narrative as I heard it yesterday from 
these French officers who lived through that fearful week. 
The glory of the simple soldiers of France was there in 
those Flemish fields, and when they were ordered to hold on 
at all costs they obeyed to the death. 

"We were asked to hold our line," said the colonel of one 
of these French regiments. "We held it." 

His hand trembled for a moment as he touched a packet 
of papers, his orders during the battle, and told me how 
each message there had been carried through frightful fire 
by his runners, so that many of them were killed, and of his 
other losses in officers and men. But then this square- 
built man, with grizzled eyebrows and moustache, and 
blue-grey eyes that had steady light in them, said again 
"We held our line." 

His regiment came up from Alsace to Flanders. They 
were hardened fellows, who had been through many battles. 
They were heroes of Fleury, near Verdun, when the Crown 
Prince's army was broken against their defence after 
desperate assaults ; and yesterday, when I saw them march- 
ing through Flemish villages, I was stirred by the sight of 
them because of their grim keen look. They are young 
men, but veterans. War has set its seal on them as on all 
men who have passed through its fire, but has not weakened 

On the morning of the 24th the German bombardment 
was intensified and spread over a deep area, destroying 
villages, tearing up roads, making black vomit of the har- 
rowed fields. Dranoutre, Locre, Westoutre, and other 
small towns were violently bombarded. That night the 
French discovered that the Germans were preparing an at- 
tack for next morning, to be preceded by a gas bombard- 
ment. Officers warned all their men, and they stood on the 


alert, with their gas-masks, when at 3.30 in the morning 
thousands of gas shells fell over them, mixed with high ex- 
plosives of all calibres up to monster 12 inches, which burst 
like volcanic eruptions. In the intensity of the bombard- 
ment several officers who had fought at Fleury, said, "This 
is the most frightful thing we have seen. Verdun was 
nothing to it." 

All the French troops jammed on their gas-masks — 
lighter things than ours, without nose tubes or chest bag, 
but very effective — and on one day they put them on fifty 
times, only removing them when the wind, which was 
fairly strong, blew away the poison fumes, until other 
storms of shells came, and for nearly a week wearing them 
constantly, sleeping in them, officers giving orders in them, 
men fighting and dying in them, charging with the bayonet 
in them. It was worth the trouble and the suffering, for 
this French regiment, between Locre and Dranoutre, had 
only twelve gas casualties. 

That morning the German attack fell first on Kemmel 
Hill, which they turned from the north, and two hours 
later, the bombardment continuing all along the line, they 
developed a strong attack against Dranoutre, in the south, 
in order to take Locre, and turn the French right. Until 
evening troops on Kemmel Hill, with a small body of our 
own men, I am told, still held out with great devotion in 
isolated positions, but by eight o'clock that morning Kem- 
mel Hill was entirely cut off. This was a severe menace 
to their comrades at Locre and southwards, because both 
their flanks were threatened. They did heroic things to 
safeguard their right and left, which again and again the 
enemy tried to pass. 

I have already told in a previous message how a gallant 
French officer and a small company of men made a counter- 
attack at Dranoutre, and held the post there against all 
odds. Up by Locre the commandant of the left battalion 
found machine-gun fire sweeping his left flank, and his 
men had to face left to defend their line. Small parties of 


Germans with machine-guns kept filtering down from the 
north, and established themselves on the railway in order 
to rake the French with enfilade fire. One French com- 
pany, led by devoted officers, counter-attacked there five 
times with the bayonet, into the sweep of those bullets, and, 
by this sacrifice, saved their flank. Another company ad- 
vanced to hold the hospice. There was desperate fighting 
day after day, so that its ruins, if any bits of wall are left, 
will be as historic as the chateau at Vermelles, or other 
famous houses of the battlefields. French and Germans 
took it turn and turn about, and* although the enemy sent 
great numbers of men to garrison this place they were 
never able to hold it long, because always some young 
French lieutenant and a handful of men stormed it again, 
and routed the enemy. When it was taken last, on April 
29, the day of the enemy's severe defeat, the French cap- 
tured 100 prisoners in cellars there, and they belonged to 
fourteen battalions of four regiments of three divisions, 
showing the amazing way in which the enemy's divisions 
had been flung into confusion by the French fire. 

"There were ten big shells a second," one of these officers 
told me, "and that lasted with only two short pauses for six 
days all through the battle, and other shells were un- 

The enemy had brought up light artillery and trench- 
mortars almost to his front lines in Dranoutre Wood and 
other places, and attempted to take the French in enfilade 
fire from Kemmel. But by this time many French guns 
were in position reinforcing the British artillery, and on the 
28th they opened up, and killed great numbers of the enemy. 

Allied aviators saw long columns of Germans on the 
roads by Neuve Eglise, and in Dranoutre Wood, and sig- 
nalled to the guns to range on these human targets. The 
guns answered. Masses of Germans were smashed by the 
fire, and panic-stricken groups were seen running out of 
Dranoutre Wood. 

That night the Germans seemed to be relieving their 


troops, and again French and British guns flung shells into 
them, and for the enemy it was a night of death and hor- 
ror. But next day, the 29th, the enemy made reply by a 
prolonged bombardment, more intense even than before, 
and then attacked with new troops all along the line. 

But the French also had many fresh troops in the line — 
not those I met yesterday — who at two o'clock in the morn- 
ing went forward into the attack and took back the vil- 
lage. This defeated the enemy's plan of turning the French 
left, and all through that day the enemy's desperate efforts 
to break through were shattered, and that night the French 
held exactly the same ground as before and had caused 
enormous losses to the German divisions — at least 40 per 
cent, of their strength as it is reckoned on close evidence. 
That night even the German guns stopped their drumfire 
as though Sixt von Armin's army was in mourning for its 

The Germans have added one terror to battle which was 
taught them by us in the battles of Flanders last year. 
From the air they sent over swarms of low-flying aero- 
planes, from 10 to a 100 yards above the ground, and their 
pilots fired on the French infantry in the open with machine- 
guns, and dropped heavy bombs. "I counted some seventy- 
nine aeroplanes in the sky at one time over two battalion 
fronts," said one of the officers whom I met yesterday, and 
his friends bore out this fact. They told me all these things 
frankly and simply, with fine modesty and open-heartedness. 

Their great pride was in the glory of their men. They 
touched the papers, which had been delivered by the run- 
ners, with reverence as relics of the brave dead, and they 
stood very silent when the old colonel, who was like a father 
among them, took another paper out of his pocket, and 
smoothed it out, and, clearing his throat a little, said, "I 
had this from a young lieutenant of mine commanding a 
platoon, and I would like to read it to you." 

It was a message from a young French officer who with a 
little party of men was isolated for two days with the 


enemy all round them. For two days they kept the Ger- 
mans at bay with machine-gun fire, righting north and 
south, facing both ways, and he had the honour to report 
— this boy of France — that he had not lost a foot of ground 
nor one man as a prisoner. 

'There must have been many things done like that," 
said the colonel, "but the men who did them have not come 
back, and we shall never know." 

On the same day as the French were holding firm between 
Dranoutre and Locre, our men of the 21st, 49th, and 25th 
Divisions were sustaining the same ordeal northwards be- 
tween Voormezeele and Ridge Wood. I have already given 
many details of this fighting, describing the colossal bom- 
bardment, the attacks of the enemy in waves, and our 
slaughter of his men. He was never able to get into Ridge 
Wood, and on the previous night, when he tried to ad- 
vance on a big scale, but was prevented by our gun-fire, 
which broke up his assemblies, the South Africans attacked 
and drove him back by machine-gun and rifle fire. The 
Yorks and Lancashires and the Duke of Wellingtons re- 
ceived the enemy with fixed bayonets, and inflicted heavy 

One fine feature of this battle, which was a defeat for the 
Germans, was the extraordinary gallant behaviour of some 
of the men of the new drafts, who came into action for 
the first time, stood the ordeal of intense shell-fire with 
wonderful stoicism, and showed a gallant spirit in attack. 
One party of them actually attacked as a separate unit and 
did splendid work. 

How many days will there be before the next battle, now 
that nearly a week has passed without German attacks? 
Since that morning of April 29, when our British and 
French troops staggered some of the enemy's best divi- 
sions by a slaughtering fire, there has been no action but the 
ceaseless action of the artillery. 


The lull in the big battles is only because the enemy is 
reorganizing his divisions, rearranging and maintaining his 
gun-power, preparing for another phase of his offensive, 
which will be as formidable as the gathering of all his 
forces for another supreme effort can be made. 

We are not making it easy for him to get on with his 
plans, and heavy rains have made his roads bad and filled 
the bogs behind him. That bombardment of ours last 
night, and on other nights, has beyond any question con- 
fused his arrangements, with such confusion as one sees in 
a neat house in Arras or Amiens when high explosives 
enter in and disturb the scheme of things. From prisoners 
and other sources we know something at least of the effect 
of our gun-fire over there in Albert and on the Bapaume 
road beyond, and up in Flanders, in old places of horror 
which were our places, beyond Hell Fire Corner and 
Hooge, and along duckboards down from Wytschaete and 
the tracts that go past Kemmel Hill. 

The enemy has many divisions both up there in the Flem- 
ish fields and on the Somme, divisions in line and divisions 
in reserve — divisions crowded in reserve — and there are 
few roads for them down which to march, and not much 
elbow room for such masses to assemble, and not much 
cover in trenches or dug-outs from high explosives or 

So we pound them to death, many of them to death, and 
many of them to stretcher cases, and reliefs coming up get 
wildly mixed with divisions coming down, and at night 
there is mad confusion in the ranks of marching men and 
in transport columns, which gallop past dead horses and 
splintered wagons and the wrecks of transport columns, 
and among regimental and divisional staffs trying to keep 
order in the German way when things are being smashed 
into chaos, while the Red Cross convoys are overloaded 
with wounded and unable to cope with all the bodies that 
lie about. 

I believe the German plans are what they were before 


March 21, only modified by the exigencies and occasions 
of the battle, but not changed in essential ideas. Their pur- 
pose still remains to destroy the British Army by continual 
sledge-hammer blows, to divide the French and British 
Armies as much as possible by driving in a wedge in the 
neighbourhood of Amiens, and with luck so to cramp us 
in the north by the capture of the last remaining hills in 
Flanders and by depriving us of the free use of the roads 
and railways that we may have to draw back from our 
northern front. 

This strategy, like all good strategy, is childlike in its 
simplicity. It needs no enormous brain to work it out. A 
map on a school-room wall is good enough for Ludendorff 
to draw out its lines. It is the men who have to take those 
lines with their bodies who have the difficult task, and 
those men, those German soldiers, know that every mile 
of the way will be another graveyard, and that strategy so 
simple as this means for them months more of sacrifice. 

But they will have to do it. The German High Command 
is not going to spare them. It will pour out their blood, 
40 per cent, of one battalion, 60 per cent, of another, an- 
nihilation if necessary, provided that in this great gamble of 
history there is a chance of winning. And apparently they 
still think they have that chance. Perhaps they think still, 
in spite of the heavy losses which they write off, that it is 
almost a certainty. 

They have five months ahead of them this year, five 
months of fighting weather, and they will use them in my 
judgment for a series of blows interrupted only by short 
periods such as that now on for reorganization and prep- 

There is only one chance of avoiding these tremendous 
onslaughts, though many chances, I hope and believe, of 
thwarting them. It is the chance — a slender one, but not 
beyond possibility — that the German people will be so hor- 
rified by this spilling of their soldiers' blood in the frenzied 
desire for a decisive victory that they will rise in passion 


against it, with cries against those who order it to go on. 

Already the German people are beginning to realize that, 
notwithstanding the jubilations of their newspapers, let- 
ters from the Emperor to his generals, and the generals to 
their Emperor, and all the stage management of victorious 
drama, their losses have been frightful since March 21. 

A day or two ago up in Flanders a wagon drawn by 
two mules dashed into our lines. Their drivers had been 
killed or scared by our harassing fire, and so these mules 
came to us. In the wagon was a German mail of unopened 
letters. Those letters reveal the agony, the spiritual revolt 
of people who understand something of the truth and see 
nothing but death in all this. 

"Do you think you won't be coming on leave soon now? 
[So one letter says.] It's high time you got away, for it is 
past your turn. Oh! how much longer is it all going to 
last? It is full time the wicked humbug of it were at an 
end. In the last few days we have had news of the death 
of five relatives in the big offensive. It is frightful, and 
still no sign of peace. The world is full of sorrow and 
misery. If only this wicked war would end — this murder 
cease. A youngster from here has just been killed, and he 
would have been nineteen in May. Oh, what a cost and 
how much more to pay before the end !" 

In another letter there is this same wail of grief: 

"You can imagine that there is no rest for me in these 
times, and all my thoughts are taken up by the new offen- 
sive and all that it will cost. Karl has been killed. What 
a shame it is, but we can do nothing to make things any 
better. Peace doesn't seem to be coming along as we have 
fondly hoped. All this in the West is too wicked for any- 
thing, and we are full of worry and anxiety. A whole 
crowd out hereabouts have had news of the death of their 
men-folk. It's too awful for anything. Four years of it 
now, and no sign of the end. We hope every day that it 
will come to a decision, and that the English will be driven 
into the North Sea, but they stand firm." 


Meanwhile the war goes on and will go on. This morn- 
ing early our guns doubled their usual dose of harassing 
fire, and kept the enemy's roads and assembly places under 
fierce bursts of shelling, so that other deaths will be noti- 
fied in German villages. And the enemy's guns were very 
active along our front all day yesterday in Flemish vil- 
lages like Fletre and La-Motte and Hazebrouck and Vla- 
mertinghe, with its skeleton church; then in the Lens area 
by Gavrelle and Arleux, and further south above Albert, 
along the Ancre. 

Round about Locre French troops have made a few small 
gains in raids and patrol actions, capturing some ruined 
farms and houses and some high ground south of Koude- 
kot. The gun-fire hardly ceases round about Locre itself 
and about the hospice there, where, as I have described, 
there was bitter fighting, so that the place was taken and 
lost and retaken several times by the French with small 
parties of "Poilus" led by young officers with most gallant 
courage. I knew this hospice well, and it will interest 
many people to be reminded that in the garden there Major 
Willie Redmond was buried after the Battle of Wytschaete, 
where he fell. In the garden there on the day of his 
funeral there was a guard of honour of Ulster soldiers 
and Nationalist soldiers, and among the generals and Staff 
officers the reverend mother and her nuns to whom the 
hospice belonged. They laid flowers on his grave, and 
went back then into the long refectory, where Irish sol- 
diers used to dine, waited upon by these good women who, 
as a sign of their love for Ireland, had painted on their 
walls the Irish harp, and next to it the Red Hand of Ulster 
and the little shamrock, with the lily flower of France. 
Redmond's grave was quiet in the garden when we went 
away from it, and birds were singing in the bushes. Now 
the hospice is a ruin, and the nuns have fled and the garden 
has been trampled down by the feet of fighting men, and 
near Redmond's grave lie other bodies of the dead. 



The Falure of the German Offensive 

May 6 
The lull continues, and yesterday was the quietest day on 
the Front, perhaps, that we have had since March 21. 

I described yesterday how our intense harassing fire in 
Flanders and elsewhere has caused much damage to the 
enemy, and has undoubtedly interfered a good deal with his 
organization behind the lines, making it difficult for him 
to relieve and reorganize his divisions, to bring up his am- 
munition, and to gather all the supplies he needs for the 
next phase of his offensive. This destructive fire of ours is 
causing the same effect down across the Somme, where the 
Australians especially have during recent days made life 
very wretched for the German troops. 

The Australian achievement at about 2 a.m. this morn- 
ing was a very daring and successful enterprise, which 
must be extraordinarily annoying to the German Command 
in that district. Annoying is too mild a word to use for 
the German troops themselves, because for an hour or more 
it must have been a time of terror for them, and many poor 
wretches were killed before the light of day. 

The Australians went over in no great numbers for such 
a wide front of attack, which was about 2500 yards, and 
without preliminary bombardment, though as soon as they 
were away their guns were active neutralizing the enemy's 
batteries and keeping his roads and tracks under fire to pre- 
vent supports getting up. 

The German garrison on this front belonged to the 199th 
Division and 145th Division, and they were scattered about, 
not in any definite trench system, but in rifle pits and slit 
trenches just big enough to give cover to small groups and 
outposts and machine-gun crews. The Australians went 
over and routed out the German pits and holes with 


bayonets and bombs. The Germans fought for their lives 
in some of these places, but at least 150 were killed accord- 
ing to the estimate of Australian officers, and the prisoners 
now number 200 of the 114th and 357th Infantry Reserve 
Regiments. They include two officers, whom I saw this 
morning, and who looked very haggard and worn young 
men, with gaunt cheeks under their big shrapnel helmets, 
which reached down to their shoulders. Among the 
trophies brought back by the Australians, whose own 
losses were extraordinarily light, were several machine-guns 
and a big trench-mortar. It was more than a raid, for 
the Australian line is now advanced on this side of Morlan- 
court to a depth of 850 yards on that wide front of 2500 
yards. It is an enterprise which will remind the enemy 
that the initiative and the offensive spirit are not entirely on 
his side. It is, however, only a minor action, compared 
with the battles last month and those which will come this 
month when the enemy is again ready to try another big 

May 8 
In spite of great gun-fire last night and early this morning 
there seems to have been no infantry action on any large 
scale along our front, though I hear of a small enterprise 
by the Australians, who have again pushed forward their 
line near Morlancourt, and also a hostile attack on about a 
two-mile front south of Dickebusch Lake (south of Ypres), 
where, according to early reports, the enemy has gained a 
footing in our forward defences. 

The continual rumbling of great guns, a loud, persistent 
thundery beating of the air from various sectors of the 
front, was last night so oppressive to the nerves that it was 
impossible to avoid the thought that it was the prelude to 
another immense battle. And again this morning after 
dawn those awful guns were at work, as they had been 
murmuring for hours through one's sleep, and one wakened 


with the belief that this day was to be one of terrific con- 

Yet no news came over the wires or anyhow. Questions 
were asked along all sectors. " Anything doing with you?" 
"Any attack in your parts?" 

And from these centres of information came back the 
answer : 

"Not guilty — quite quiet about here to-day." 

Quite quiet, but with loud noise of fire from many of 
our heavies doing their usual routine work of strafing 
German roads and assembly places and ammunition dumps 
and batteries. 

Meanwhile there are wonderful May days after heavy 
rain, and the fields of France this side of crater land are 
a song of colour, with a tapestry of all the flowers that 
Ronsard put into his poems in the May days of French 
history, before high explosives had been invented. 

It is not everywhere easy for the enemy to assemble his 
troops or concentrate his guns and ammunition stores on 
his front for the next phase of his offensive. Albert is a 
case in point. 

From many points we have complete observation of his 
positions there, as he has of ours from the other side of the 
way, and needless to say we are making use of this direct 
view by flinging over storms of shells whenever his trans- 
port is seen crawling along the tracks of the old Somme 
battlefields, or his troops are seen massing among their 

The town of Albert itself, where once until recent his- 
tory the Golden Virgin used to lean downwards with her 
babe outstretched above the ruins, is now a death-trap for 
the German garrisons there and for any German gunners 
who try to hide their batteries among the red-brick houses. 

By day and night we pound their positions with high ex- 
plosives, and soak them in asphyxiating gas. I went within 


2000 yards of it yesterday, and looked down into that place 
through which I passed hundreds of times during the 
Somme battles and afterwards, so that every broken house 
and factory and wall was familiar to me there, and I saw 
our heavies at work upon it. It was a wonderful May day, 
as to-day, and the sun shone through a golden haze upon 
that town in the valley and upon the barren land above it — 
and for miles around it — which two years ago was swept 
and blasted by enormous shell-fire. The Golden Virgin 
has gone, but the church tower still stands, all torn and 
jagged, with its red and white brickwork horribly mangled. 
It was always an ugly little town, with its modern brick 
houses and straight-lined factories, but it meant much to us 
as a place of historic memories, because all our armies 
passed at some time or another through its narrow streets, 
and the sinister desolation of its Grande Place — looking up 
for a moment at that strange leaning figure of Divine 
Motherhood — to the fields of fire beyond. 

So as I looked into Albert yesterday and saw our shells 
smashing through, and then away up the Albert-Bapaume 
road, past the white rim of the great mine-crater of La 
Boiselle to the treeless slopes of Posieres, and over all that 
ground of pits and ditches to High Wood on the distant 
right, with its few dead stumps of trees, it was hard to 
believe — even though I knew — that all this was in the area 
of the German army, that the white winding lines freshly 
marked upon this bleak landscape were new German 
trenches, and that the enemy's outposts were less than 2000 
yards from where I stood. Some siege gunners lying on 
their stomachs and observing the enemy's lines for some 
monsters I had seen on the way up — monsters that raised 
their snouts slowly like elephants' trunks before bellowing 
out with an earthquake roar, annihilating all one's senses 
for a second — passed the remark to me that Albert isn't 
the town it was, and that Fritz must be having a thin time 
there. They also expressed the opinion that the Albert- 
Bapaume road was not a pleasant walk for Germans on a 


sunny afternoon. I did not dispute these points with them, 
for they are beyond argument. Our big shells were smash- 
ing into Albert and its neighbourhood from many heavy 
batteries, raising volcanic explosions there, and our shrap- 
nel was bursting over the tracks in white splashes. 

One of the gunners, lying flat on his stomach with tele- 
phone to his ear, raised himself a little and said, "They're 
going to do a shoot, with an aeroplane to spot for them." 
I saw the bird come out for this job, flying low through a 
blue sky, and not flurried because German Archies began to 
send black bursts about its wings. 

The siege gunners were chatty again. "Fritz got it in 
the neck the other evening," said one of them. "All the 
guns ceased fire, and a swarm of our aeroplanes came out 
— more than fifty of them — and dropped bombs on an as- 
sembly of German troops down there and battery positions. 
They made some fine rosy clouds when the red-brick ruins 
went up in dust. It was a great sight." 

There was a great noise yesterday, but it was mostly our 
noise, for which I was duly thankful. Scores of our 
heavies were scattered about behind the lines, where the 
woods are in the first glory of their green, all light and 
feathery in the sun, and where the grass was merry with 
gold and silver, except where German shells had opened 
deep pits, horribly fresh, so that one knew the enemy had 
been searching around here for any death he could find. 

I described in my message yesterday how the noise of 
gun-fire was so steady and loud during the night and early 
morning over a wide extent of the front that along all 
sectors of it there were inquiries as to attacks, answered 
by assurances that there was nothing doing. But, after all, 
there was something doing against one body of our troops 
in Flanders, and, judging from later information gained 
by our officers there, it looks as though the enemy had in- 
tended a big attack by at least five divisions, though the 
plan was thwarted by our intense gun-fire. 

What actually happened was an assault upon Ridge 


Wood and its neighbourhood, north of Vierstraat, on the 
French left, opposite Kemmel Hill, extending along the 
lines of the French themselves, though not so heavily ex- 
cept in artillery fire. That was intense, prolonged, and ter- 
rific for several hours of the night and just before dawn. 

Behind the German lines, as we now know, a new Ger- 
man division previously untouched in this offensive — the 
52nd Reserve — had just relieved the 3rd Guards, who, as I 
have already told, have been badly mauled with their Cock- 
chafers in recent fighting, and on their left — our right, of 
course — there was the 56th German Division, with others 
opposite the French front. All these men were crowded 
into narrow assembly grounds, and they did not have quiet 
hours before the moment of attack. They had hours of 
carnage in the darkness. British and French guns were 
answering back the German bombardment with the heaviest 
fire. French howitzers and long-muzzled fellows, which 
during recent weeks I have seen crawling through Flanders 
with the "Cornflowers," as the French soldiers call them- 
selves, crowded about them on gun-limbers and transport 
wagons, and muddy horses, who have travelled long kilo- 
metres, were now in action from their emplacements be- 
tween the ruined villages of the Flemish war zone, and with 
their little brothers, the soixante-quinses, their blood- 
thirsty little brothers, were savage in their destructive 
and harassing fire. 

I have seen the soixante-quinze at work, and have heard 
the rafale des tambours de la mort, the "ruffle of the drums 
of death," as the sound of their fire is described by all 
soldier writers of France. It was that fire, that slashing 
and sweeping fire, which helped to break up any big plan of 
attack against the French troops yesterday morning, and 
from those assembly places a great part of the German in- 
fantry never moved all day, but spent their time it seems in 
carrying back their wounded. 

So it was with another division of German troops, in- 
tended for an assault on our lines further north. Our field- 


batteries and heavies laid down a protective barrage of 
shell-fire of terrible intensity, and here also any German 
plan of movement was "immobilized," a scientific word for 
slaughter and the destruction of hostile preparations. But 
in spite of the bombardment on the 52nd Reserve Divi- 
sion, those German troops, in their first baptism of fire in 
this offensive, came out against our men in Ridge Wood. 
Our forward system of trenches there had been wrecked 
by German shelling, and our line had been withdrawn 
from it, in order to save life, to positions behind the wood, 
where our machine-gunners had a good field of fire and 
where it was better to organize counter-attacks. As the 
German soldiers advanced they were sprayed by machine- 
gun fire, so that many fell, but were able to take the line of 
upheaved trenches and to penetrate Ridge Wood. That is 
all. Our old trenches gave them no cover. Ridge Wood 
gave them no hiding-place, for it is only a collection of tat- 
tered tree-stumps, and those Germans lay out there, losing 
more men as the hours passed. Then in the evening some 
of our men — Seaforths, I think — made a counter-attack, 
clearing the enemy out of the wood and back beyond our 
original line. 

It was not a good day for those German divisions in 
Flanders — one more fresh division has been scorched — and 
it is worse for them, because very likely they may have to 
try again in order to carry out the plans of their High 
Command, who are anxious to get this ground in order to 
make an easier way up to Ypres, which, as I have already 
said, they are anxious to get for political advertisement, 
though there is little of military value in its ruins, except the 
memory of our gallant dead and of all those who have 
walked through its sinister streets to Hell Fire Corner and 
the fields across the Menin road.